Scottish Opera’s La Traviata, at the Festival Theatre tonight, is visually stunning but vocally flawed. This production is by Scotland’s most successful opera producer, Sir David McVicar, who is currently the leading opera producer in the world, with major productions at the Met (including his new Norma) and Covent Garden.
McVicar’s production was first performed by Scottish Opera in 2008 and is impressive, in particular the fine stage designs by Tanya McCallin, which include the wonderful use of curtains to frame the drama. Indeed, this production has been very successful abroad in Cardiff, Madrid, Barcelona and Geneva. It is revived here by director Marie Lambert, and is as convincing dramatically now, as it was in 2008.
La Traviata is one of Verdi’s greatest opera scores, and Scottish Opera’s orchestra, under the experienced baton of David Parry, brings out every nuanced note of it, from the wonderful overture to the dramatic and tragic ending. Dramatically, this production works very well, there are many intelligent dramatic points throughout, and it is well acted by the cast.
Gone are the days when opera singers could simply “park and bark”. Now, rightly, they are expected to act as well as sing, and in this our cast does well, in particular the young Russian soprano, Gulnara Shafigullina (Violetta), who really looks as if she’s of dying of consumption. Peter Gijsbertsen is convincing as a young, rather naive Alfredo, and Stephen Gadd is solidly convincing as Alfredo’s father.
Sadly, the vocal performances are not quite as convincing as the dramatic ones. Shafigullina is less secure in her early arias, and her colorutara is a little unsteady. She does improve in later acts, however, and her final act is very convincing both vocally and dramatically: she is clearly a young singer with a great future. Similarly, Gijsbertsen is vocally a little thin in his first arias, but again improves in later acts: he is also a young singer with future promise.
Gadd is a more mature baritone as befits Germont, and he gives a secure, if not too exciting, performance. It is also worth mentioning the very decent vocal performances from Catherine Backhouse as Annina, and James Platt as Dr Grenvil. Scottish Opera is clearly limited financially in its ability to hire leading singers, and thus cannot compete vocally with, for example, Covent Garden.
Scottish Opera can rightly be proud of its Traviata production. It compares well with that of Covent Garden, although it sadly can’t compete vocally, but is still is a very good operatic experience, and is enthusiastically received by the big audience. Indeed, some audience members are even moved to tears at the end: the sign of a great opera!