I wept all right, and not just because of the minor key, and not just for brave, self-sacrificing Violetta, breaking away from the family that her racy reputation will bring down, but for the character who never appears - the sister of her lover whose own marriage prospects, if Violetta does not detach, will be ruined. Violetta is mortally ill anyway, the love affair will be breached by death: she will give another woman the chance of a future she does not have.
That this comes through so clearly is a tribute to the wonderful acting, let alone singing, of Joyce El-Khoury (until 1 Feb), the Lebanese-Canadian soprano who is the first of three Violettas between now and July. (She sings Violetta at Glyndebourne this summer too.) Next up, the Russian Ekaterina Bakanova (14-25 June), who first sang the role last year when she stepped in for Sonya Yoncheva. The remaining three performances (27 June to 4 July) are sung by the American-born Londoner Corinne Winters, who made her ROH debut in Così Fan Tutte in September.
The opera opens in the plush golden salon where Violetta entertains until dawn, in Bob Crowley's sumptuous design. When she admits to her love for Alfredo, the couple move to the country, where fabric samples and unhung pictures suggest a life slowed down, stripped of high society's competitiveness and perfectionism. After a disastrous evening in the dizzying glamour of the casino, the dying Violetta is, finally, all but alone in a vast room where the louvred shutters flicker with the giant silhouettes of revellers outside.
But it is above all the marvellous singing that propels this production, from the fluid alacrity and intelligent variety of El-Khoury, who can whisper the highest notes. Brilliantly, she repeats her early hedonistic credo more quietly, and less convincingly, once she knows that amorous Alfredo is nearby, so that he does not hear her forsake love.
As Alfredo the Russia tenor Sergey Romanovsky makes his Royal Opera House debut, and who can blame him for a little tension in the voice on this first outing, but there were some lovely moments nonetheless. As his father, however, Polish baritone Artur Ruciński turns in a flawless performance, beautifully sung and packed with meaning. At only 40 and not of the advanced years of his character, he has many big roles ahead, and these are to be relished and sought out.
Daniele Rustioni conducts the orchestra of the Royal Opera House and a slightly lacklustre chorus with relish for his countryman's music, and there is great work in minor roles too.
Often music-lovers ask where to start with opera, or where to take a newcomer. This La Traviata fits the bill, and also has fresh ideas for those who already know their way around. It's a treat, wherever you start.
|What||La Traviata review, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
16 Jan 17 – 04 Jul 17, times vary for 13 performances
|Price||£11 - £200|
|Website||Click here for further information and booking|