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Review: La traviata

The New Zealand Opera returns to the Theatre Royal with another extremely impressive production in Verdi’s La traviata. Sheer audiovisual spectacle from the opening moments to the tragic finale, it’s a glittering night out in the suitably majestic surroundings of the Isaac Theatre Royal.

The company continues to operate with what are probably the highest stage production values in the country. Opening in courtesan Violetta’s residence in Paris, the stage is essentially spare but festooned with a dazzling array of chandeliers and drapery and houses an enormous glass box that at turns becomes reflective or transparent through clever use of lighting, and impresses with its sheer towering size alone. Despite such a magnificent edifice and surroundings though, what dominates the stage is Madeline Pierard’s Violetta, dazzling in a red dress and very much the life of the party.

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Living a life of enjoyable if shallow glamour as a kept woman for rich and powerful men, she is suffering from what she knows is a fatal illness but determined to live the rest of her life in a hedonistic mode, partying until the end. But the earnestly-declared love of Alfredo Germont (played by rising star Italian tenor Enea Scala, rocking a bit of a Bradley Cooper vibe) makes her realise that her life could be something more meaningful. Abandoning her all-night-rager lifestyle (and with it, her means of income) for the bliss of the countryside with Alfredo, she finds true love for the first time in her life but alas, this being opera in the classical tragic mode, their mutual happiness is not to last.

opera1Madeline Pierard’s performance as Violetta is a stunning one, at turns capturing the frail beauty‘s fatalistic but independent and determined nature, while Scala brings genuine passion to the headstrong Alfredo. Gone are the days when acting was a secondary consideration in opera, and quite apart from the magnificence of the singing, both leads convince in the portrait of their doomed love affair. Theatrical touches throughout from director Kate Cherry in which Violetta catches glimpses across time to her past self are also wonderfully evocative.

Pierard and Scala are more than ably backed up by Phillip Rhodes as Georgio, Alfredo’s father (whose beard makes him a bit of a dead-ringer for Taika Waititi’s priest character in Hunt For The Wilderpeople), while Rachelle Pike and James Ioelu are memorable Parisian socialites, and Robert Tucker delivers an appropriately sneerish turn as Baron Douphol, Alfredo’s rival. As promised in our chat with him, Andrew Glover’s matador tights and bull-miming as Gastone really does need to be seen to be believed as well.

By the time Violetta’s tale comes to its sad end in the third act, which features some especially powerful, heart-in-the-throat moments care of the reflective glass set, Violetta’s salon has become what Ron Burgundy might refer to as a glass box of emotions. As an audience we’re wrung out, and have experienced what can only be described as another lush, rich piece of entertainment from this accomplished company. Bring on Sweeney Todd later in the year!

Images: Neil MacKenzie 

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NZ Opera: La traviata
Isaac Theatre Royal Sat 16, Tue 19, Thu 21, Sat 23 July
Tickets from Ticketek

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Guest 22 November 2017