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La Traviata (Royal Opera House)

Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello take over the principal roles in Richard Eyre's production of Verdi's tragedy - to thrilling effect

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

© Catherine Ashmore

A second, swift return to the Royal Opera's ultra-traditional Richard Eyre staging of La Traviata was necessitated by a raft of cast changes roughly halfway through the current run. Husband and wife team Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello have sung their roles in this staging before, but they were reunited this time round amidst a flurry of media interest in the release of their new album, Love Duets, which has been garnering favourable reviews.

It should come as no surprise that their onstage chemistry is electric, and whilst Perez's technique may not be as secure as Diana Damrau's, who made a fine impression as Violetta in the first cast, Perez cuts a more traditional figure on stage. With her diminutive frame and Hispanic good looks, the sense of fragility that Violetta needs to exude was evident as soon as the curtain rose to reveal Perez contemplating the thought of yet another party – her discreet coughs alerting us to the fact that the stricken courtesan is already showing signs of her illness.

Throughout the ensuing three hours, Perez was alive to the character's shifting emotions: elation at her first encounter with Alfredo, resignation at the actions she must take after her encounter with Alfredo's father, humiliation at the hand of her former lover in the Act II party scene whilst her death scene pulled on the heart strings. She despatched Verdi's coloratura with panache and paid scrupulous attention to Verdi's marking and, thankfully, notes. Hers was a winning assumption of the title role.

As Alfredo, Stephen Costello, was ardent, lyrical and thankfully eschewed the unwritten top C at the end of his Act II cabaletta. He sounded more at ease in the middle of the voice, which is richly coloured, than in the high-lying parts this role encompasses, cut a handsome figure on stage and as noted above, the relationship with Violetta felt natural and never forced.

Simon Keenlyside returned to the role of Germont, and wisely jettisoned the old duffer characterisation that he brought to the role a few years' ago. Here he presented Alfredo's father with a steely-eyed determination hell bent on ensuring that Violetta would end her relationship with his son. He sang nobly throughout, delivering a mellifluous account of ‘Di provenza…'

The supporting cast was as solid as it had been in the first cast, but the biggest surprise of the evening was Dan Ettinger's conducting. After a disappointing showing on the first night, when I said that I felt he was ‘reining his forces in', here he was attuned to every nuance of Verdi's score, supported the singers admirably and produced a real theatrical thrill that had been lacking two weeks' ago.

The performance on 20 May (with Perez and Costello) will be beamed to BP Screens the length and breadth of the country for free, and will be streamed live as well.

Royal Opera House

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