Günter Krämer’s staging of La traviata for the Bayerische Staatsoper opens with a young, orphaned Violetta being pointedly ignored by respectable gentlemen. Thus, we’re introduced to the production’s two themes: isolation and childhood. Both are emphasized repeatedly, unsubtly—and neither particularly adds to the emotional or intellectual content of the story.

Violetta’s childishness does add to her charms. There’s a genuine sense of elation at her party in act I, with guests dancing in a conga line and attempting silly balancing tricks with their champagne coupés. 1910s Paris (Krämer’s choice of setting, for no obvious reason) looks like a fun place to live. In the second scene, Violetta’s and Alfredo’s retreat consists of a picnic blanket, a swing, and a teeter-totter. While this makes the lines that imply an indoor setting implausible, it shows that Violetta’s sense of fun has survived her move to the country. The other staging choice on the theme of childhood is more problematic: Alfredo’s sister appears onstage with her father. She is dressed as a younger child than she is, and Giorgio Germont is overprotective and controlling. But it’s unclear what the point is. Is she supposed to contrast with the orphaned Violetta we saw? To emphasize the motivation for Violetta’s sacrifice? To show what a terrible parent Germont is?

The staging moments that focus on Violetta’s isolation seem very contrived. At the end of the third scene, she comes to the front of the stage, and a scrim descends between her and the rest of the cast. Eventually, the light narrows to a spot on Violetta. The final scene similarly ends with Violetta delivering her final, spoken words alone in front of the scrim, then collapsing as she totters towards the light. The staging is both heavy-handedly symbolic and nonsensical: to create this stage picture, Alfredo has to leave the side of the dying Violetta.

Ermonela Jaho, our Violetta, has a strange voice. She commands a huge range of vocal colours, but many of them are unpleasant—either airy or harsh and scream-like. Most often, her sound is pushed and full of aspirates, especially when she tries to give syllables or words extra emphasis. At other times, her voice is glorious, as during the cadenzas before ‘Sempre libera’. There, she displays fabulous flexibility and accuracy, seemingly effortlessly. Unfortunately, the usually pushed quality of her voice also appears in her acting. She shows wonderful joy and charisma in the first act, but after that her gestures are of the melodramatic back-of-hand-to-forehead stamp, with plenty of unrealistic sobs thrown in for good measure. She’s too obviously aware of the tragedy of her own situation for the audience to feel it fully.

As Alfredo, Pavol Breslik strikes a better dramatic balance, acting with passion but restraint. He struggles vocally, though. In the centre of his range, his sound is warm and full, but he quickly drops the high notes at the ends of arias, apparently uncertain of their solidity. Of the central trio, only Alexey Markov (Giorgio Germont) seems fully comfortable vocally. His role suits his range perfectly, with his lowest notes retaining richness and his top notes exciting but not strained. Christian Rieger also makes an impression in the small role of Baron Douphol with his spot-on line delivery and credibly intimidating persona.

The show’s musical troubles also afflicted the chorus and orchestra on Sunday. The bull fighters’ chorus by the men was particularly lackluster, with underwhelming sound and uncoordinated voices and movements. The gypsy chorus by the women sounded better, even though they had to perform sleight-of-hand card tricks while they sang! Coordination between the singers and orchestra was also a constant problem. The Staatsorchester often sounded very soft from where I sat; perhaps the singers also had difficulty hearing them, because especially in act I, they were rarely together. Conductor Oksana Lyniv led the orchestra in an otherwise-solid but unexciting rendition of Verdi’s score.

This Traviata has plenty of pretty dresses and some good voices. But the production is nothing to write home about, and musically, it’s not up to the Bayerische Staatsoper’s usually high standards. In the unlikely event that you’re urgently Traviata-deprived, you can find much better.