Trills and thrills at La Traviata d’Opera Qld

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It’s a musically thrilling La Traviata. Congratulations to Opera Queensland for this captivating fusion of singing, acting and, above all, conducting.

Maestro Dane Lam showed a keen flair for this Giuseppe Verdi classic, and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra responded with passion. Whether savoring the moment or moving forward, it was a pleasure to be in their expert hands.

Lam understands how much Verdi’s repetitive musical motifs need to be cherished. They can so easily become mechanical – too much belly-to-back in the fastest passages or an endless treadmill in the slower ones. It never happened. The harrowing final act, as the heroine dies of tuberculosis, seems cruelly brief. And how many times at the opera do you feel like someone dies too soon?

The story of a high class prostitute

La Traviata was a breakthrough in 1853, and not just for Verdi. Never before has an opera focused so much on a person’s inner life. The choice of story was also a breakthrough. It’s about the kind of woman you weren’t supposed to know – Violetta, a high-class prostitute maintained in lavish style by a wealthy man. Until he gets tired of her and she has to find another rich man.

But Violetta becomes terminally ill. At the same time, she finds the first true love she has ever known. But it is soon ripped off. The young man’s father hunts Violetta. His scandalous affair destroys the Germont family, he tells her. The only way to save him and do his lover any good is to abandon him. So she does and must face her journey to death not only alone but hated by the person most dear to her.

As Violetta, Lorina Gore was ultimately superb. A beautiful stage presence, her singing was never less than competent. She met the role’s enormous demands on agility, power, and most importantly, stamina. Gore’s first two acts, however, suffered from a severe attack on the highest notes. But every time she warmed up her sound, she could melt you. The duet as she first met the lover Alfredo gave me my first thrill of the night.

Sincere golden tone

And what an Alfredo. Kang Wang’s sincere and golden tone was enough to explain Violetta’s adoration. He was also the picture of puppy appeal, sporting clear signs that he was going to the gym.

Like his father, Germont, José Carbó was an effective foil to lovers. He offered plenty of vocal strength and authority, only lacking some sweetness in his longer phrases. Smaller parts were perfectly taken by local veterans such as Shaun Brown, Hayley Sugars, Jason Barry-Smith and Conal Coad.

I just wish the visual drama still matched what we heard. The production is certainly beautiful. Clean white walls offset the gorgeous dresses and decor. But to me, it was too relentlessly pretty, like a lifestyle magazine doing a tribute issue to the Victorian era. This went against the dark currents that ran through Verdi’s music. The set also featured a closed rectangle which interfered with the acoustics, especially female vocals. Often, when Violetta changed the angle of her head, her volume would change in a distracting way.

But what was most disappointing was how the staging drew attention to itself rather than drawing you into the world of characters. Imaginary characters are frequently entered, with no change in lighting to keep the focus on the person singing. The characters seemed to cross the stage more to stretch their legs than for any dramatic reason.

Above all, little was cared about what Verdi’s music actually expressed. The staging of the prelude was emblematic. Just as Violetta’s big love theme began, a bit of comedy had the audience laughing. It was pretty bad. But it also made them laugh moments later when a critically ill Violetta collapsed.

The most heartbreaking I’ve ever heard live

Fortunately, however, the main joy of opera is the connection between singer and audience. This we had in spades. The Opera Queensland chorus were driving in their voices, and the sheer excitement of their sound was enough to carry the party scenes away. When tracks were just allowed to feel their parts, they could move you to tears.

The last act was the most heartbreaking I’ve ever heard live. Lorina Gore became one with Verdi’s score as the strings ushered in death, hissing eerily like radio interference. I mourned Violetta and her tragedy, even though I knew she was only an artistic creation. That’s why we go to the opera.

Opera Queensland presents La Traviata at the Lyric Theater until July 23.

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