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  • 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
  • This is a film of the revival of Peter Konwitschny's production for English National Opera. It is difficult to see why anyone would want to film this unphotogenic production. The scenery consists of red curtains, although, occasionally, a character will draw back the curtains to revealÂ… more red curtains. There is a chair onstage throughout and, in Act II, we have the additional excitement of a pile of books. Don't get too excited though. Konwitschny has made cuts to the libretto so that any trace of light relief has been removed, notably the gypsy/toreador business in Act II. The result is just the gloomy bits of La Traviata, played continuously, without an interval.

    Ben Johnson has to play Alfredo as a charmless, borderline Aspergers' character who is totally inept socially. Unfortunately, this lack of charm also rubs off onto his singing. At the ball, while everyone else is in evening dress, he wears a duffel coat, white, woolly cardigan and corduroy trousers. In Act II, captioned three months later, he is in the same cardigan and trousers which must have been getting a bit niffy by then. As Violetta, Elizabeth Zharoff, with a startlingly wide vibrato, gets off to a shaky start and does not impress in the virtuoso numbers that end Act I. One does have to sympathise with her having to sing, say, Sempre Libera in English. The English translation, throughout, is very clunky and the singers often have to sing several syllables on one note to fit everything in. Zharoff's performance does get better though and she is much more moving in the two final acts. A young-looking Anthony Michaels-Moore lacks gravitas, both physically and vocally as Germont. Not much is made of the minor roles either with, in particular, Martin Lamb having to play Dr Grenvil as a buffoon. The chorus, throughout behave like rampaging idiots.

    Mentioning idiots brings me back to director Konwitschny. He introduces a character, Germont's daughter, who looks like a 12- year-old schoolgirl, which completely undermines Germont's argument about her engagement being in danger of being broken off. Konwitschny makes no attempt to dramatise the card game; the participants just stand there flicking cards in the air. In the final scene Violetta does not even get a deathbed; she has to manage with the same old chair. The final quintet is performed with Violetta on stage and Alfredo, Germont, Annina and the doctor standing in the audience. Alfredo keeps changing his position from the centre aisle to the side aisle forcing the unfortunate audience members on the second row to stand as he barges through them. I think that this is supposed to be funny but the people on the second row did not look amused. At the end, Violetta does not die she just walks off-stage. I would like to think that this is her expression of disgust at all that has gone before. Sadly, she does not seem to be the only one to be suffering from consumption. The audience at ENO could cough for England.