Alleaume’s Violetta is La Traviata’s jewel in the crown
‘La Traviata’, Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome
What’s the most challenging soprano role in Verdi? Surely it’s the lung-busting, double-octave leaping Abigaille in ‘Nabucco’. Giuseppina Strepponi created the role and sang the first eight performances. She had to take a year off to recover. When Verdi proposed marriage Giuseppina agreed but only on condition that she never had to sing Abigaille again. Violetta in ‘La Traviata’, however, requires much more than just sheer vocal firepower. Versatility both stylistically and emotionally is needed for three contrasting acts: stupendous coloratura flamboyance; delicacy and emotional subtlety for intimate scenes; immense pathos, without mawkishness, but concentrated projection, at her death. Violetta is the opera’s eponymous heroine – it’s her show and that demands star quality. Without doubt the Australian soprano Stacey Alleaume has it in abundance. Her ‘È strano!... Ah, fors' è lui’ is a vocal showpiece despatched with crystal clarity but more than that Alleaume convinced us that we are seeing a mind at work, a heart persuaded, a destiny embraced. We believe both in her love and her selfless renunciation of Alfredo. Her dying prayer to the deity to forgive a fallen woman – “Ah, della traviata sorridi al desio” – would make the angels weep.
The Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim is an excellent romantic foil for her. He has the right Italianate voice – his ‘Libiamo’ with Alleaume and the ever-excellent WNO Chorus was all swaggering energy and joie de vivre – and his guileless overgrown boyish demeanour just right for Alfredo’s mixture of passion, petulance and remorse. His father Germont was once played as a stony establishment figure but Mark S. Doss gives a firmly sung more sympathetic reading – he’s as much cribbed and confined by society’s hypocritical values as the lovers are.
Alleaume has the glamour and sheen, in appearance and voice, to make her the jewel in the opera’s crown but David McVicar’s handsome and elegant production – from 2009 revived here revived by Sarah Crisp – provides the perfect setting abetted by Tanya McCallin’s sumptuous designs and the exquisite costumes make this a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. The chorus, comprimarios and dancers bring sparkle and infectious energy to the party scene. It can sometimes feel flat but five saucy gypsy girls and a deliciously camp choreographed matador-and-bull ballet gave it zest. The WNO Orchestra’s incisive playing under Alexander Joel, was as adept here as in the opera’s opening ethereal prelude and tragic finale. An evening of many delights.