Opera Project’s production of Verdi’s famous and arguably most-loved opera La Traviata was not lacking in impact, considering it was a small-scale production. This being the second time I have seen an Opera Project production, I am certainly not dissuaded from seeing what they come up with next. La Traviata is a chamber opera, in a way, well suited to the smaller venue of St George’s Bristol. The story is not the generic love triangle tale, with conflict between a hero and a villain. The conflict instead is between a heroine and a father. A small cast and orchestra made a big sound in this performance.

Opera Project: La Traviata
Opera Project: La Traviata

The set was simple and effective – six white pillars stood tall behind two curved green tables. The set changes were also simple, only requiring the tables to be pushed back. A writing desk was brought on stage for Act II, and this was replaced with a bed for Act III. These set changes were, unfortunately, a little awkward, and took time. With no lighting change, it was hard to tell whether the technical staff coming on stage to help the changeover was in fact part of the production or not. I would have liked there to be two short intervals in between the three acts rather than one long one in the middle of Act II, because it put too much of a stopgap in the wrong part of the story for me. At the end of Act II there was much more of a musical climax, where all of the singers were singing together rather than solely two characters on stage.

I found the story wasn’t conveyed as simply as it could have been. The lead female role could have put more fire and passion into her part, and it was difficult to see the two main characters as lovers. Somehow they didn’t match, and there wasn’t enough chemistry between them, creating a struggle to relate to their pain of being forced to separate. The second half of the opera (Act II, Scene II onwards) was more engaging in terms of the plot. Nicholas Sales reached the climax of his role as Violetta’s lover Alfredo here, trying to win her back. Through his gamble with the Baron (Robert Gildon) in a party scene, he demonstrated not only anger through power in his voice, but also vulnerability, adding depth to his role.

The costumes had clearly been thought about as much as the other design aspects of the performance and gave a hint of the 1800s period in which the opera was written. Though the general feel of the costumes worked with the modernistic values of the production, the female costumes for the two party scenes didn’t appear to fit with the rest of the performance. In the opening scene both the men and women came on in full black tie dinner dress with the women in trousers and tailcoats with their hair up. This made differentiating between the characters somewhat confusing. In the second party scene, the women were wearing corsets bloomers and hoop skirts, which combined with onstage movement, were an unnecessary distraction at times and seemed to have the audience whispering.

Equal attention had been placed on both the music and the dramatic side of this production. Of the singers, Craig Smith’s performance as Giorgio Germont is worth a particular mention. Smith grasped the subtlety of projecting his voice in a smaller venue, and where other parts were overpowering and at times overacted, he was particularly engaging to watch. His baritone voice had a richness to it that gave him a commanding tone. He was perfectly cast as the father in this respect. Ana James’ performance as Violetta reached its most interest point in Act III, when her character is dying in bed, and she is forced to sing whilst lying down. During her standing solos in the first two acts she had a lot of power to her voice, but in the final act, her dynamic range was used to her best ability. The softness of James’ voice as she drew her character closer to a final burst of energy before her death was controlled and moving.

Conductor Jonathan Lyness did a fantastic job of holding the performers and music together, especially considering he was halfway down the right-hand side of the audience. The orchestra was placed on the right of the stage under the right balcony but there was no obvious separation between the sounds on- and off-stage. There were a couple of moments where the singers were out of sync with the accompaniment, but this was to no detriment within the production. There were a couple of moments when Lyness’ gesture became a distraction, but otherwise the orchestra remained in cognito and added a full body to the performance. There was undoubtedly professionalism the whole musical performance; not a single singer could be faulted for their skills as a musician. With their high quality of performance, Opera Project deserve the recognition they receive as one of the UK’s leading touring opera companies.

***11