Every summer Opera Zuid closes its cultural season at the Concertgebouw with a concert performance of its spring production. Previous years produced the crowd-pleasers Madama Butterfly and Tosca, now comes La traviata. Obviously, Traviata is an opera which has been done to death, but this La traviata is an underdog production. Opera Zuid is a small company. The team produces celebrated operas from the repertoire that provide meaty roles in which to showcase recent graduates of the conservatory. The popular Philharmonie Zuidnederland is quite young and is the fortunate child of the unfortunate, financially necessary, merger of two great orchestras in the south of The Netherlands. I was curious to hear them. When the performance turned out to be surprisingly engaging, enhanced by the fine acoustic of the Concertgebouw, it felt like you discovered the work – even something as familiar as La traviata – afresh. 

The enthusiastic leads turned the show into one big party. Marcel van Dieren presented a furious and fear-inducing Giorgio, his aria “Di Provenza il mar” brimming with impending doom. Eric Laporte’s rock-solid Alfredo showed muscle with restraint as Violetta's bourgeois young lover. In the duet “Un dì felice” he convincingly evoked Verdi's ill-fated Italian romantic mood. Adréana Kraschewski infused her Violetta with a keen and wanton ardour: dazzling in enthusiasm during “Sempre libera”, while chillingly fragile in her last aria “Addio del passato”.

Right from the start, the Southern Theatre Choir was able to make their impassioned mark with its fervent presence in the Brindisi. The beefy and invigorating orchestra provided an enthusiastic, but balanced and dependable performance: a perfect environment for the young vocalists to thrive in. The Concertgebouw can be a blessing or curse for an orchestra; if playing well together, then the acoustics will augment the orchestra's quality to the pleasure of the audience, but when mediocre, or even barely off, the acoustics will abate the sounds of the ensemble — a challenge for any orchestra, and definitely a young one. The Philharmonie Zuidenederland benefited greatly from the acoustics. Under the composed and assured conducting of Per-Otto Johansson, the energetic orchestra performed with consistently improving quality. 

For costumes and choreography, Frank van Laecke stripped down his staging to accomodate the minimal possibilities at the Concertgebouw. I could only imagine how the performers’ vigorous energy had affected his original setting. On the other hand, the Concertgebouw provided this Traviata with its own élan. The lighting in the Great Hall in hews of purple and pink ignited the evening with the necessary romantic ambience.  Curious tourists and zealous opera aficionados shaped the crowd. This combination created a concentrated, eager atmosphere, excellent for fond enjoyment of opera on a hot summer night.