Nestled in the beautiful Hampshire countryside, West Green House Opera has been trundling along for years, and as with many country house companies, after a period of unheralded slog it looks to be coming into its own. In a covered auditorium seating 400 with huge glass windows and decent acoustics, artistic director William Relton has programmed La traviata and Così fan tutte, but there are numerous ‘fringe’ events, including recitals and a production of Gounod’s La Colombe in the smaller Lakeside Pavilion. The overall impression is a sense of purpose and growing quality, combined with a palpable seam of edginess and experimentation.

Jessica Rose Cambio (Violetta) and Jung Soo Yun (Alfredo) © Matthew Williams Ellis
Jessica Rose Cambio (Violetta) and Jung Soo Yun (Alfredo)
© Matthew Williams Ellis

I almost wished Relton had gone for broke and staged Traviata in and around the house and gardens, which are well suited to such an experiment, but his production was well-developed in an updating that brought the plot forward to interwar France. Act I opened in a large open blue room, dominated by a large round table slightly to the side, lavishly covered, with some richly upholstered chairs and a gold curtain at the back. The simple switch to Alfredo’s country home was effected by swapping some chairs, removing the tablecloth and opening the curtain to show a painted country backdrop. Violetta’s garret saw most of the furniture taken to the back of the stage, covered in a dust sheet, and a bed brought forward for the ailing heroine.

Costumes generally were lovely; the ladies were in beautiful dresses with classic period hair accoutrements and Alfredo slipped into some tweedy country dress in the second act. It was clearly a production with purse strings tightly controlled, but the direction was really quite good; Relton gave plenty of goings-on without providing too much distraction and seemed to want to enhance and expose Verdi’s theatrical nous rather than to correct it. His little scene during the prelude where men come onto the stage, encircle Violetta and leer at her captured the spirit of woman as possession particularly well.

Jessica Rose Cambio (Violetta) and Jung Soo Yun (Alfredo) © Matthew Williams Ellis
Jessica Rose Cambio (Violetta) and Jung Soo Yun (Alfredo)
© Matthew Williams Ellis

Jessica Rose Cambio gave a superb Violetta with plenty of depth. Oozing sex appeal in the first act, her flashes of vulnerability were sudden and disarming; her development of the pathos of the character throughout the opera was impressive. Vocally, she was on top form, showing off a powerful soprano largely at ease at the top – though once or twice it felt like she was slipping into verismo – and with something spicy in the colour of the voice that made her genuinely exciting to hear. Diction varied in quality, but occasional slips didn’t detract from the overall power of the performance. Her Alfredo was sung by an impassioned Jung Soo Yun, deploying his warm, silver sweet tenor to great effect in his act two aria “De' miei bollenti spiriti”. A couple of moments in the first act saw a slight thinness in the voice, but there was generally enough substance in both higher and lower registers. His attention to phrasing and his voice’s inherent lyricism conjured up Carreras on more than one occasion. The chemistry between the two lovers took a while to react - it wasn’t until Act II that I really felt a spark between them.

In his assumption of Giorgio Germont, Eddie Wade sang with a classic Verdi baritone; expressively and majestically delivered with rich, full phrases. His Germont started with a hardened worldliness – cynical about love, practical about familial prospects – and Wade’s transformation of his character, through minute but obvious facial and physical adjustments was impressive. Vocally, that slight haughtiness of the second act dissipated into colours of burden and grief. Matthew Hargreaves’ Baron Douphol was an unpleasant piece of work, stalking around the stage with a cane in a manner that suggested it was used as much on flesh as on the ground. Were it not for an apt injection of spite, Hargreaves’ elegant bass-baritone would have been almost too cleanly sung for the character.

Sophie Goldrick gave a graceful Flora, full of charm and sparkle, and Paul Curievici made a strong impression as Gastone. The chorus was in good shape vocally and provided plenty of glamour, some members clearly throwing themselves into the roles with great enthusiasm.

Under Oliver Gooch, the West Green House Opera Sinfonia gave decent playing with plenty of shimmer on the strings. There are a few kinks to be ironed out and Gooch struggled once or twice to prevent the singers from being overwhelmed, but he achieved the bold, dramatic sound that one wants in Verdi. A promising start to this season. 

****1