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  • Flora Gosling

Review: La traviata (Theatre Royal Glasgow)

Updated: May 15

Picking up “The Fallen Woman”

La traviata, which translates to “The Fallen Woman”, was initially intended to be called “Love and Death”. It was changed to leave audiences in no doubt that the heroine Violetta, a high-class courtesan, was deserving of her unhappy death for leading an immoral life. Modern audiences might not look so harshly on her character, in fact the death of Nicole Kidman’s character in Moulin Rouge is more sympathetic despite following a nearly identical plot, but that hasn’t stopped this opera from becoming a classic. Scottish Opera decided not only to bring back this opera but also this very production, which was first directed by Sir David McVicar in 2008 and then revived in 2017. It begs the question whether this second revival is truly as timeless as its source, or whether, like the latest James play at the Tron, it is trying to draw in audiences with pure familiarity.

Photo Credit: James Glossop

Hye-Youn Lee, who gave a stand-out performance as Micaëla in Scottish Opera’s Carmen last year, plays the doomed, lovestruck courtesan. Although she was not part of the original cast, she is not new to the role, indeed it has been her signature in productions around the world. And yet she doesn’t play it with any kind of smug confidence, or with boredom, she plays it like this is her big break. At all times she seems eager to impress, to make every moment special, and you feel that in the way she clutches at her lover’s shirt and writhes on her deathbed. It takes a conscious effort to read the surtitles and keep track of the plot rather than simply watch her face and listen to her voice.

Photo Credit: James Glossop

Opposite her is Jin-Min Park as Alfredo, Violetta’s lover who is turned against her by his concerned and possessive family. Park is perfectly matched next to Lee; his voice bellows through the auditorium and he brings plenty of personality to his character. When building up the courage to woo her he is neither a poet nor a flirt. Instead, he acts like a teenager with a throbbing crush. When Alfredo is tricked into thinking Violetta has left him his anger seems to pick at the edges of operatic respectability in a way that is thrilling to watch. It is remarkable when a performer can make a story that has been performed so many times before feel perilous.

A feat, I might add, that Park achieves despite how avoidable the tragedy of La traviata feels. Many classic tragedies fit this mould, but as a first-time viewer, the choices of the characters feel odd and unexplained. It is a credit to the production that you trust McVicar and revival director Leo Castaldi to guide us through the story in a well-dressed, stunningly performed production. Violetta’s world of Parisian parties, where champagne flows, matadors perform ballet, and can-can dancers flirt and laugh at noblemen, is so inviting you wonder why Violetta would ever choose to leave it. It can be said that McVicar prioritises fun and grandeur over tragedy, but that is a nitpick for a revival showcasing some of the best voices you’ll ever hear and the best party you have never been to. Four stars.

Whispers from the Crowd: "It was great! I wonder if Verdi meant it as a critique of woman's oppression?"

La traviata will plays at Theatre Royal Glasgow until the 18th of May, at Eden Court in Inverness on the 23rd and 24th of May, at His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen on the 30th of May and the 1st of June, and at Festival Theatre Edinburgh from the 7th to the 15th of June


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