There is the Violetta of Act One, flirtatious, generous with her favours, an indefatigable hostess but for the consumption that is slowly eating away at her. Act Two Violetta is a home-maker, settled in the country with Alfredo, and dignified when confronted by his scandalised father. Finally, Violetta in Act Three is a stricken invalid, wishing for Alfredo's future happiness with another.
The challenge for every soprano singing this leading role in the world's most performed opera is to be each of these three women in turn. In this latest revival of Richard Eyre's classic production for the Royal Opera House, it is the remarkably focused Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho who takes on the role(s).
Violetta (Ermonela Jaho) and Alfredo (Charles Castronovo) try out some decorating ideas in La Traviata. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Jaho's Act Three Violetta is the one that will live on in the memory. She is elegant but relatively austere in the opening party scene, and gracious in her new secluded life, but her delirium as death approaches is a thing to behold as she shrinks visibly and clutches at life. At the rapturous curtain calls Jaho staggered back to real life as if from an abyss.
Her singing is glorious throughout, the voice slightly textured in the glamorous opening scene, sumptuous as her surroundings. As Violetta drops the trappings of a more trivial life Jaho sings with increasing purity; her silken-thread pianissimos are as wondrous and unfathomable as that old master trick of conjuring up lace with a flick of white or gold.
The opera opens in the plush golden salon where Violetta entertains until dawn, in Bob Crowley's lavish design. When Violetta is won over by faithful Alfredo, the couple move out of Paris. Fabric samples and unhung pictures suggest a life slowed down, stripped of high society's competitiveness and perfectionism. Here Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, begs her to end the relationship that blights his daughter's chance of marrying.
Igor Golovatenko as Giorgio Germont explains why the relationship between Alfredo (Charles Castronovo) and Violetta must end. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
After a row and a disastrous evening in the dizzying glamour of the casino to which she returns, the dying Violetta is, finally, all but alone in a vast room where the louvred shutters flicker with the giant silhouettes of revellers outside, making Jaho's Violetta look even tinier as she slips out of life.
As for the rest of the cast, the American tenor Charles Castronovo is everything you could wish for in Alfredo – plausibly handsome and comfortably at ease with Verdi's full-bodied music. The French singer Benjamin Bernheim will sing some later performances, and soprano Angel Blue will also make her house debut as Violetta.
And look out for the performance that is also relayed to cinemas across London (30 Jan): the great Plácido Domingo will be singing the role of Alfredo's father that night, and at two other performances (23 Jan and the matinee of 26 Jan).
Ermonela Jaho is a stricken Violetta in the final act of La Traviata. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Russian baritone Igor Golovatenko was a strong Giorgio Germont on opening night, and in the role of hostess Flora the Russian mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina was impressive. Here and there in this international cast the Italian language is lost, but the fine acting is more than compensation.
Conductor Antonella Manacorda got the whole thing off to a disappointingly ponderous start, and although luckily there is no holding back the Royal Opera Chorus, orchestral tempi and colour were at times a little flaccid.
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. With the amazing Jaho in the title role it is a treat, wherever you start.
La Traviata is sung in Italian with English surtitles. The performance on 30 January is relayed live to cinemas across London: click here for details
|What||La Traviata , Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
14 Jan 19 – 31 Jan 19, nine performances
|Price||£12 - £225|
|Website||Click here for further information and booking|