La Traviata | Melbourne OperaKerry Gill as Violetta and Roy Best as Alfredo. Photos - Robin Halls

La Traviata
is Giuseppe Verdi’s tragic romantic masterpiece. Violetta Valery (Kerry Gill), a Parisian courtesan, and Alfredo Germont (Roy Best), her secret admirer, are star-crossed lovers. Like Romeo and Juliet, their tragedy is their circumstance, their society and its conventions.

Melbourne Opera opens their 2009 season with a new production of the first opera produced by the company six years ago. Under South East Regional Touring Opera, Melbourne Opera continues to provide affordable professional opera performances to metropolitan and south east regions, and greater employment opportunities for local artists.

In the quaint, yet acoustically-challenged Athenaeum theatre, Hugh Halliday’s slightly antiquated production sat perfectly. Andrew Bellchambers attractive set design framed (quite literally) the action – outstretched longing hands reaching over a bed of Camellias.

The fiery passion that infuses Verdi’s musical score demands great emotional engagement and expression – however, in this production, the need to perform to the front, for reasons of projection, seemed to take priority. Much of the dramatic passion was lost. It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to portray the joy of love when you are not looking at the person you’re supposed to be in love with. Gill and Best lacked chemistry.

Gill, who stepped in for the indisposed Amanda Wang, performed commendably. Her voice has a velvety sweetness that caressed Verdi’s legato phrases beautifully. However, the role of Violetta demands both dramatic and lyric potential to express the joyous outbursts of love and the tender breaking of a heart. Gill offered an exquisite lyrical pianissimo, but did not contrast this with the dramatic fortissimo needed to capture the vitality of spirit of Violetta, and of Verdi’s music.

Gill’s portrayal was not helped by Sue Halls’ unflattering costume design and Christina Pallikaris’ hair and makeup. In a bustled, lacy Victorian gown, with a tight feathered bun, Violetta seemed more of the Marx Brothers’ Margaret Dumont matron than the coquettish vibrant flower. Only in the final act, as Violetta is dying from consumption, did the spirit of Verdi’s Violetta seem to emerge. In a simple slip, Gill’s soft frailty of expression captured the audience.

Once described as, La *cough-cough* Traviata, this is an opera which despite its incredible subtlety and beauty, can quite easily slide into the melodrama and histrionics of a period costume drama. And yes, Hugh Halliday’s production included stiffly rehearsed unison chorus bursts of laughter, Victorian inspired costumes, and a little touch of Gilbert and Sullivan. But all of this simply added to the curious charm of the production – despite its failings, the audience was captivated by the vividness of Verdi’s music.

Melbourne Opera presents
La Traviata
by Giuseppe Verdi

Directed by Hugh Halliday

Venue: Athenaeum Theatre
Dates/Times: March 21, 24, 25, 26, 27 @ 7.30pm and 29 @ 3pm
Tickets: $25-$98
Bookings: (03) 9650 1500 or Ticketmaster

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