Really do have to agree completely with the previous reviewer (often have done, but there have been times where I've been a touch more generous) that this production of Verdi's masterpiece doesn't work.
Considering that this was from English National Opera, a company who have done many productions that have been incredibly well-performed and staged in a way that respects the spirit of the opera and the intentions of the composer, one was really expecting so much better than this.
If the opera was not such a great one, this reviewer possibly wouldn't be so harsh. However, we are talking about a contender for Verdi's masterpiece (love many of his operas though) and one of the most emotional operas ever written with some of the most music of any mid/late-19th century opera.
Then again, there was a sense of intrepidation somewhat seeing as it was directed by Peter Konwitschny, often a director of bad taste and who was responsible for the worst 'Don Carlos' and 'Tristan Und Isolde' on DVD and for a very strange production of 'Lohengrin', his best production available is his 'Gotterdammerung' (heavily flawed, but the only watchable production of the Stuttgart Ring Cycle).
What does save the production from complete disaster is the impassioned and heartfelt performance of Elizabeth Zharoff, and vocally apart from some initial unsteadiness (like many sopranos she does struggle with "Sempre Libera"). Anthony Michaels-Moore does have a warm, sturdy voice as well for Germont.
Musically, the production at best is only borderline-decent. The orchestral playing is reliable and there is some beautiful playing, but there is a lot of chilliness and gloom and not a whole lot of nuances or excitement. Same with the conducting, which is disciplined, but not sympathetic or alert enough, often too cold and clinical. The chorus do very well vocally but are given some truly idiotic staging.
Of the principal performances, Zharoff is the most consistent and while she isn't perfect hers is the only one who is good. Michaels-Moore's voice is lovely, but his interpretation (or more like Konwitschny's) is all wrong, he has the sternness but not the sympathetic edge, Germont often comes too much of a bully which is not what he is. Ben Johnson is an underpowered Alfredo, and acts the role with a lot of clumsiness and also not a whole lot of charm.
Visually, it is not a very attractive production, but it is Konwitschny's staging that dooms everything. The characters are very one-dimensional and never feel real or multi-layered, not just the leads but too many of the supporting roles are played too much like buffoons especially Baron Douphol and Dr Grenvil.
Even more one-dimensional is the drama, which is completely devoid of passion and emotion, completely wrong for an opera that is full of both those things. There are cuts, which severely undermines the tone, instead of multi-layered and robbed of its moments of light-heartedness it's all doom and gloom which is a very simplistic and one-sided approach to staging the opera. It is also agreed that the English translation is very clunky and the singers sometimes struggle with word under-lay.
All in all, a 'La Traviata' that fails to move or feel in any way. One would be hard pressed to find a worse performance of it, and considering it's from ENO it's a shame. 3/10 Bethany Cox
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