La Traviata (Opera Australia)

Elijah Moshinsky’s 1994 production La Traviata is sure to delight anyone seeing it for the first time, but those who have been lucky enough to experience its Belle Époque beauty and drama many times over might become complacent. To get them to sit up and take notice may require exceptional singing – which was duly delivered on Opera Australia’s autumn season opening night in Melbourne. After hearing wonderful reports of soprano Stacey Alleaume starring in Sydney in recent years, Melbourne finally had the chance to be blown away as she made her hometown main stage debut. Has this venerable production ever had a better Violetta?

Stacey Alleaume and Ho-Yoon Chung in La TraviataOpera Australia, 2022. Photo © Jeff Busby

Founded in Venice in 1853, Verdi La Traviata is a classic melodrama about wealthy courtesan Violetta, who gives her all for the man who truly loves her, Alfredo. Her father, Giorgio, persuades the distraught and voracious “fallen woman” of the title to give it up, and tragedy ensues.

Violetta embarks on a roller coaster of emotions, a journey that Alleaume seems to make almost effortless. Right off the bat, she wows as an actress, flitting around the bustling party scene in Act I with charming gestures, looks and laughs, but when the crowd moves on, Alleaume shows us why she’s really there: her voice is spectacular and also reveals Violette’s interior. The searching, contemplative cantabile that opens the act’s two-part finale is a showcase of expressiveness underpinned by subtle, finely controlled dynamic shifts, then Alleaume stuns the audience with the force of coloratura, agility and notes of clear and resounding heads of the cheerfully provocative cabaletta. Through Acts II and III, as an actress and singer, she conveys the varying shades of Violetta’s grief with devastating impact.

As Alfredo, Korean Ho-Yoon Chung is overshadowed by Alleaume, and there isn’t much chemistry between them. Although technically excellent, its tenor is underpowered in Act I and drowned out by the orchestra at critical moments in the next. His vocal power and his passion are however transformed into a strong Act III. Italian baritone Mario Cassi plays Giorgio with memorable seriousness. Her confident, richly-toned voice and calm, quiet presence convince us of her character’s shifting attitude, from caring only for her own children to embracing Violetta like a daughter. Cassi’s Act II duet with Alleaume is a highlight.

In small roles, the supporting actors are accomplished, with Agnès Sarkis a very honorable late replacement as Flora, Violetta’s friend, on opening night. The splendid harmony and dynamics of the ever-reliable Opera Australia Chorus are the reward of obviously rigorous rehearsal, also evident in the poise with which they move across crowded party stages. Under the baton of Renato Palumbo, Orchestra Victoria certainly expresses the drama of Verdi’s romantic and melodic score, especially the strings that are alternately delicate and then lush.

Sets by Michael Yeargan and costumes by Peter J Hall are a feast for the eyes in both party scenes. These riots of Belle Époque high society, colors, gilding, rich fabrics and furniture, contrast with two gray and sparse scenes: an autumnal courtyard for Violetta’s meeting with Giorgio, and its large living room practically empty of objects, colors and of life for the staging. of his disappearance. This contrast clearly shows the choices she must make and the circumstances imposed on her.

Something old, something new is proving to be a successful combination for Opera Australia’s first appearance in Melbourne since this time last year. The visual delight and dramatic impact of Moshinsky’s production (revisited by Constantine Costi) lives on, while the talents of Cassi and in particular Alleaume are new delights Melbourne opera-goers will want to experience again and again. .

australian opera La Traviata is at the State Theatre, Arts Center Melbourne until May 28, then at the Sydney Opera House, from July 5 to November 4.

About Madeline J. Carter

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