Review: Verdi's La Traviata

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 5:05am

La Traviata
Opera Hong Kong
HK Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
Reviewed: October 11

Verdi's eternally popular La Traviata was the first full-scale opera staged by Opera Hong Kong. Eight years later, the company has revisited the work with a striking new production by internationally acclaimed director Dieter Kaegi.

Based on the novel The Lady of the Camelias by Alexandre Dumas, La Traviata is the story of beautiful Parisian courtesan Violetta, who gives up a life of luxury when she falls in love with the ardent young Alfredo. When his father begs her to leave Alfredo for the sake of his family, Violetta sacrifices her own happiness to do so, even though she knows she does not have long to live. Her heartbreak is complete when Alfredo, believing she has betrayed him, humiliates and spurns her. Only when Violetta lies dying are the lovers at last reunited for a brief moment.

The director and his designer William Orlandi have transposed the work from Paris in the 1850s to 100 years later. Although the 1920s might be a better match for the febrile, pleasure-bent society of Dumas' novel, the early 1950s work better for costume, allowing Orlandi to come up with a gorgeous array of romantic dresses.

This is an intelligent production with plenty of originality - Act One takes place on the red carpet at the Oscars, in Act Two Violetta and Alfredo pass the time in their rural idyll playing golf - and Orlandi's inventive sets make excellent use of the Grand Theatre's limited stage space.

On the first night Act One was tentative, but pace and confidence picked up in Act Two. Acts Three and Four were tightly focused and successfully built the story to the shattering emotional climax it demands.

As Violetta and Alfredo, Australian soprano Rachelle Durkin and Italian tenor Gianluca Terranova gave fine performances, although they could have been better matched in terms of their style and physique (the willowy Durkin needs a taller tenor).

Terranova brought a fine ringing tone to his singing and passion to his acting. If Durkin looked ill at ease as the sophisticated courtesan of Act One, she came into her own with a heartfelt, convincing portrayal of Violetta's later suffering, producing a death scene of extraordinary intensity.

There was vivid characterisation in supporting roles from local singers including Carol Lin, Oliver Lo and Joyce Wong, an outstanding Dr Grenvil from Chinese bass Gong Dongjian and the best work yet from the Opera Hong Kong Chorus, whose acting took a major step forward in assurance under Kaegi's direction.

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra gave a solid account of the score under the baton of Brian Schembri.