Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata is an odd choice for inclusion in WA Opera’s “2013: Year of the Divo” campaign – it’s about a woman and is very much a diva’s opera.
But never mind; she is here, one of the most famous fallen women known to modern culture. She is Alexandre Dumas’s La Dame aux Camélias, who was based on Dumas’s real-life lover Marie Duplessis. She has been immortalized on stage and screen, interpreted by such greats as Sarah Bernhardt and Greta Garbo, and here written into glorious song by Verdi.
Katja Webb sings Violetta, Verdi’s Italian version of the Lady of the Camellias, with beauty and perfect control. She is as gorgeous an apparition on stage as she is a vocalist; she glides across the scene with elegance and grace, and is thus ideal for this noble courtesan. She absolutely floats through an extremely challenging opening act, which sees Violetta go from soaring above the chorus, to melting into a lush duet with Alfredo, and finally taking full command of the stage in a lengthy aria. Ms. Webb thrills and delights with her prowess.
In the role of Alfredo is Rosario La Spina, a tenor with impressive power and tender sensibility. When he and Webb sing together there is musical chemistry between them, as well as a notable emotional connection, that lend a quality of sincerity and authenticity to this love story. Douglas McNicol gives us a stoic and grave performance as Alfredo’s father; his cold demeanor signals the oncoming winter and his demands on Violetta embed a chill in her that never leaves.
It must be said that the sets by Michael Yeargan and costumes by Peter J Hall, originally commissioned by Opera Australia, are dazzling to behold. When the curtains opened at the beginning there was an audible gasp and murmur from the audience, along with spontaneous applause. We were unprepared for such splendor, such rich detail, such opulence.
Then the chorus members began to pour onto the set in their lavish period finery, and just when it seemed impossible to make room for any more performers, two or three more came trickling in. And as they sang, densely but prettily packed into this sumptuous set, they began to gently pulse in unison, subtly swaying and undulating in time with the music.
Somehow, through the magic of stagecraft, efficient stage management and a swift crew, we were treated to three more stunning sets and who knows how many more gowns and suits, all met with perceptible awe from the crowd. It is a bit of a marathon; with two intervals and a scene change, the show clocks in at roughly three hours (if not a touch longer). But never mind, La traviata is here and she is lovely.