Jonathan Miller s production of La Traviata for ENO looked cheap and nasty on its first airing several seasons ago, and at this, its second revival, it looks no better. As Violetta is dying of consumption, Miller draws on his other profession (that of being a doctor) to stage the last act ‘authentically . All Verdi s stage instructions are ignored, and Violetta remains bed-ridden for the whole of the last act which removes most of the agony and pathos from the opera.
Anyway, if we re going to be that pedantic, Miller surely wouldn t let her sing at all, as I suppose that is out of the question for most consumptives. How lucky then that this wasn t the case, for it gives us an opportunity to experience Claire Rutter s acclaimed Violetta for the first time outside Scotland. All the notes are there, her coloratura is breath-taking and her phrasing is secure and true; yet, where needed, her voice takes on a thrilling edge and she fills the auditorium with a flood of glorious sound.
What makes Rutter s Violetta so unique is the way she manages to blend all these attributes together into a truly compelling and moving performance. For my money, she is one of the finest Violettas around at the moment. And it certainly adds an interesting slant to the story, too, that Miss Rutter is about seven months pregnant. (Luckily, this precludes her from wearing Violetta s unflattering act one costume of white shirt and trousers!).
The supporting cast is strong, all from ENO s now formidable roster of company principals, although there was one hiatus on the night I attended. As Germont Pere, Christopher Booth-Jones was suffering from a throat infection, yet went on nonetheless. Apart from some dry tones here and there, he sang marvellously and was less of a cipher than his predecessor in this production. John Hudson repeats his often dramatically bland Alfredo yet produces the right Italian sound needed for this role. Michael Lloyd conducts efficiently and the orchestra play with finesse for him.
Another good company revival. Sadly for us, due to Miss Rutter s advanced state of pregnancy, Sandra Ford will be singing some performances.
La Traviata continues in rep until 11 March 1999.