The first wheezing chords of the overture are prefaced by the sound of laboured breathing. The production is too intelligent to have Violetta go cough, cough, cough, but instead listens to the music: in her final bars Violetta burns too brightly, as victims of TB do just before the end. This fatal flare concludes a wonderfully assured performance as Violetta by Lauren Fagan, making her debut in the role of Violetta and earning a roar of approval from the first-night audience.
The Australian-born, Guildhall-trained, London-based soprano made her first appearance at OHP last year as Donna Anna in a memorably stylish Don Giovanni. In her extremely welcome return she fulfils all that promise with confident musicality and variety of tone, and a moving and impressive presence. A star is not born: a star listens and grafts and crafts and then emerges fully-formed. Lauren Fagan has the many gifts a singer needs for the big Italian repertoire, and is already branching out elsewhere into Handel, for which she is also well equipped. Catch her in La Traviata while you can, and get the diary out when she is next in town.
Paris lets rip in Opera Holland Park's 'La Traviata'. Photo: Robert Workman
At the heart of La Traviata is a noble gesture by a woman for another woman, in a male-dominated society, and the best productions and interpretations understand this. Violetta is visited in the home she shares with Alfredo by his father, Giorgio Germont, sung here with a thread of menace by Stephen Gadd, who asks her to give up Alfredo, whose sister's marriage prospects are jeopardised by Alfredo's relationship with a former courtesan.
A lazy first-night sneezer and blower shattered some of the most affecting bars in all opera – audiences have a job to do, too, and sometimes that it simply exercising at key moments a fraction of the self-discipline that singers display. But the rest of the house will have heard Violetta's pivotal shift from defiance to sisterly co-operation.
Singing Alfredo is the Italian tenor Matteo Desole, making an OHP debut that grew in stature after an understandably shaky start. This is such a difficult character to convey: he needs to be plausible as a man who has mooned around after Violetta for a year without her noticing and without making a move, and who within minutes of their introduction makes himself irresistible, but is then to be happiest in the greenhouse. Desole may not have these contradictory layers yet, but it's early days.
Lauren Fagan burns brightly as Violetta. Photo: Robert Workman
La Traviata is conducted with spirit and sensitivity by Matthew Kofi Waldren, who made such a success of Puccini's La Rondine last year. As then, the City of London Sinfonia, resident orchestra at OHP for 15 years, is joined by the indefatigable Opera Holland Park Chorus, partying relentlessly as Violetta's life crumbles. Maybe it's the new configuration in the pit, but a little more from the basses and cellos wouldn't go amiss.
Special effects are supplied by Holland Park's resident peacocks and blackbirds. And local youngsters enjoying a dry evening outside the summer opera house illustrate forcefully Verdi's musical observation that whenever a life ebbs away, there are others living on cheerfully, just around the corner.
La Traviata is sung in Italian with English surtitles.
|What||Verdi's La Traviata review , Opera Holland Park|
|Where||Opera Holland Park, Stable Yard, Holland Park, London , W8 6LU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||High Street Kensington (underground)|
29 May 18 – 28 Jul 18, 10 performances, including 2pm matinee 17 June
|Price||£20 - £80|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|