The tart with a heart is back – Verdi’s consumptive waif hasn’t had time to pop to Boots for a bottle of Benilyn this season as The Royal Opera’s whopping 22-performance run of La Traviata, well just runs and runs. The first cast received mixed reviews – there was apparently little on stage chemistry between ice-princess Poplavskaya and the all-American, under-powered James Valenti as Germont, so how would this second cast stand up by comparison?
Very well – in fact I thought it was generally one of the best casts to grace Richard Eyre’s creaky old chocolate box of a staging in recent memory although it’s only fair to point out that Ailyn Perez as Violetta has youth on her side, which is more than can be said for either Renee Fleming, who did a pretty good impression of Blanche Dubois or Angela Gheorghiu who did a very good impression of herself. True, the aforementioned feted sopranos certainly have more beautiful voices than Ms Perez, but Ms Perez actually lives the part and although there were a couple of moments when pitch goes array, she acquits herself well, and should grow into the part.
She has classy support from Piotr Beczala who is quite simply sensational as Germont – although Slavic he sounds more authentically Italian than many Italian tenors and he nails both his arias in Act II. I can’t remember the last time I heard such great tenor singing at Covent Garden.
As his father Simon Keenlyside overdoes the ‘old buffer’ aspect rather too much, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and put the doddering around to the intervention of revival director Rodula Gaitanou. Keenlyside sings magnificently – his ‘Di provenza’ being the vocal highlight of the evening.
Supporting cast is good, chorus are fine and making his debut in the pit young German conductor Patrick Lange certainly keeps a steady hand on the tiller, allows his singers to breathe and whilst there aren’t any particularly novel insights, he secures playing from the orchestra that is well above average. This cast keeps the Traviata flag flying til the new year when there are more cast changes including a couple of Violettas from Anna Netrebko.