Nederlandse Reisopera’s LA TRAVIATA at Rotterdam

Well, this was certainly La Traviata as you won’t have seen it before with insights, interpretations and ideas that were always clever and often brilliant.

This was no Traviata of sumptuous, lavish high-society with satin frocks and white tie and tails, elegant chaise-longues and velvet drapes. This was an in-your-face, up-market brothel with no coy mucking about or ambiguity (“Mummy, what’s a courtesan?”) with lots of scantily, often not-at-all, clad young ladies running in and out of various doorways and up and down the stairs rather like in a West End farce. Violetta plays the entire opera wearing black bra and knickers, complete with suspender belt and black stockings. For most of the time she wears a white, fur-lined coat over her underwear, signifying, if you refer to the original story La Dame aux Camélias and understand the title, that she is always available.

From the overture there is no mistaking where the production is going. A man emerges from one of the doors onto the landing/hall of the maison close and hands over some money to the madame before leaving. Violetta emerges from the room and it is here that the recurring, innovative and, it could be argued brilliant, theme is introduced.

The giant upstage mirror dissolves, revealing Elysian fields with two children playing in the long grass only to be interrupted by a rather brutish man (their father?) appearing and dragging off the girl (a young Violetta) to a fate we can easily imagine. This sets the theme and back-story for the whole production, with the child appearing throughout – in one instance having her nightie torn from her by the mocking party-goers and later wearing the ubiquitous white coat underneath which she is clearly wearing only black underwear and stockings. Hmmm.

But it wasn’t only the excellence and originality of the production by Floris Visser that impressed. The orchestra, under the baton of Illych Rivas was faultless throughout, but it was Urŝka Arlič Gololičič to whom most of the credit must go. She made an outstanding, heroic and ultimately tragic Violetta who sang and acted her socks off (and her bra at one point). Totally convincing. Jesús Garcia was a likable and equally convincing Alfredo and Anthony Michaels-Moore was his meddling father who inserts the spanner into the works of couple’s doomed love affair.

La Traviata is a great opera for the chorus and in this modern dress production they excelled. They were always at a party and were always having fun. The gypsy girls at the beginning of Act II Scene 2 performed a very sexy and uninhibited strip-tease without a tambourine in sight, followed by a bit of lap dancing which would not have disappointed punters in some Pigalle clip-joint. Shirking was one thing this production was not going to be accused of.

There were a couple of issues which stopped the show from gaining the full five stars. The first scene of Act II, at Violetta’s country house, recreated the Elysian fields we had glimpsed at the beginning but lacked the visual impact of the interiors and the plain backcloth was disappointing and a bit of a cop-out. Nevertheless, this scene contains some of the best arias and duets in the opera and those did not disappoint. The other thing that niggled a bit was that not enough was made of Violetta’s chronic illness which was eventually to kill her. Not so much as a tickle in her throat until the final scene.

I won’t spoil the ending by revealing what happens but, suffice to say, it does not involve Violetta lying artistically on the customary chaise-longue with plumped-up pillows surrounded by flowers. This was a sad, pathetic heroine fallen a long way from grace and was much more tragic, heart-rending and less predictable than that. It was a fitting finale, as original, clever and astounding as the rest of the production.

The great thing about opera is that it encompasses all aspects of theatre but it is, obviously, the music that usually dominates. In this outstanding production the drama, acting and direction gave it a good run for its money. Excellent, really enjoyed it.    ★★★★☆    Michael Hasted,   Rotterdam   7th October 2017

Photo: Marco Borggreve

Nederlandse Reisopera’s LA TRAVIATA tour continues until 18th November