North Harbour Stadium

Review: Tara Werner

Based on Dumas' play La Dame aux Camelias, La Traviata had a special significance for Verdi, since aspects of the story echoed his own personal circumstances.

Just like the doomed romance between the courtesan Violetta Valery and the young French nobleman Alfred Germont, Verdi's affair with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi was seen as being beyond the pale in polite society.

The opera is intimate in nature, strongly reflecting the composer's deeply felt emotions.

And there, in essence, lay the main and very real problem with Alan Sythme's production last Friday.

Ironically, the intimacy that has made La Traviata so famous makes the opera problematic when turned into a grand-scale spectacular. Director Raymond Hawthorne had difficulty in overcoming the close-knit nature of the story, which relies for much of the time on intimate interchanges between the main roles.

Despite all the colourful costumes, mass movement and impressive fireworks during the party and ballroom scenes, there was a lack of fluidity to much of the action, as if the production did not quite get past its planning phase into full realisation.

The set itself did not help. Three separate sections (garden, ballroom and bedroom) may have been necessitated by the stadium layout, but it meant that two thirds of the audience had to crane their necks to concentrate on the pivotal garden scene in Act 2.

The sound system took time to balance and it was a pity that the Auckland Philharmonia under conductor Chiu-Sen Chen was hidden under the stadium since it meant that the music seemed disembodied. But, luckily the strength of the singing saved the situation.

Soprano Jean Glennon overcame a momentary memory lapse at the end of "Follie! ... Sempre libera" in Act 1 to carry off Violetta convincingly.

Her duet "Pura si come un angelo" with Alfredo's father, (equally strongly sung by Jeffrey Black) was poignant while the letter scene in Act 3 "Teneste la promessa," when Violetta realises she is near death, was the best singing in the entire opera.

Meantime Richard Troxell made an ardent Germont, singing the famous drinking song in Act 1 with carefree abandon, while later clearly portraying remorse in "O mio rimorso."

All the secondary roles were an equal match to the soloists, and the chorus sounded well rehearsed.

But capable singing aside, this Traviata did not overcome its translation into a massive spectacle.