La traviata is so frequently performed, and Richard Eyre’s Royal Opera production is such a standard (this is its fifth review on this site) that it deserves two separate reviews: one for the potential first time visitor and one for the regulars.

Sergei Romanovsky (Alfredo) and Joyce El-Khoury (Violetta) © ROH | Tristram Kenton
Sergei Romanovsky (Alfredo) and Joyce El-Khoury (Violetta)
© ROH | Tristram Kenton

The newbie review is straightforward: come and see it. There are good reasons why La traviata is one of the world’s top ten operas: it’s a serious, thought-provoking story accompanied by an outpouring of wonderful melodies. Eyre’s staging is visually stunning and uncomplicated, making no attempt to introduce any directorial concepts into a classic work. And this Royal Opera performance is never less than thoroughly competent in every aspect.

Most seasoned operagoers will come to this particular run to see the three main singers and conductor Daniele Rustioni, all of whom are at or near the start of their Covent Garden careers. Here, the results were more mixed.

The most impressive of the four was baritone Artur Ruciński. His voice has strength and smoothness, with a bit of an edge when needed. I liked his portrayal of Giorgio Germont as a man so convinced of his own rectitude that he can justify behaviour which (at least according to 21st-century mores) is wilfully destructive, lapsing into self-pity when the destruction is clear: a reading well supported by his varying vocal expression. He also avoided one of the pitfalls of this production: a tendency to walk in continuous circles around Violetta’s long kitchen table. My only cavil was that he looked twenty years too young for the role – more help was needed from the makeup department.

Joyce El-Khoury (Violetta) and Artur Ruciński (Giorgio Germont) © ROH | Tristram Kenton
Joyce El-Khoury (Violetta) and Artur Ruciński (Giorgio Germont)
© ROH | Tristram Kenton

No such qualms about Joyce El-Khoury, who looked nothing less than ravishing as Violetta on her Covent Garden debut. El-Khoury has impressed us on previous performances: here, there was plenty of promise, but some clear signs of nerves and some passages that didn’t quite work. Her voice is basically attractive and she has the agility to turn some lovely phrases: the difficult triplets in her response to “Un dì felice” were as beautifully executed as I’ve ever heard. But there were intonation errors early on and problems with a dynamic range that was too broad: pianissimi were often almost inaudible, while her voice can have a sharp edge when pushed too loud. But while this may not have been a technically perfect performance, you could not fault El-Khoury’s commitment to the role and her accomplishment of what is perhaps the hardest part of the role of Violetta: needing four very different voices as Violetta’s circumstances and temperament change through the opera.

Tenor Sergei Romanovsky seems somewhat further from being the finished article. The power in the voice is there, the acting was fine, but the early intonation errors were more severe, and his voice never really opened up to the sort of full warmth that one wishes for in Alfredo. While it can be okay to portray him as a lovesick puppy in Act I, we need a vivacious brindisi, and by the time we’ve reached Act II he needs to come across as a hot-blooded, headstrong, impetuous young blade. On this performance at least, Romanovsky didn’t convince me.

Joyce El-Khoury (Violetta) © ROH | Tristram Kenton
Joyce El-Khoury (Violetta)
© ROH | Tristram Kenton

I’m looking forward to seeing more of Rustioni: tempi and dynamics were well judged, the singers were generally given plenty of room to breathe, and there were flashes of orchestral brilliance – I particularly noticed the theme that surrounds “Amami, Alfredo” in Act II, the return of one of the main themes from the overture. I could have wished for some more brilliance in the party numbers in Act I, and some shift in orchestral balance from midrange to highs, but these are relatively minor complaints in a sound performance.

The supporting cast were well up to the high standards expected from the Royal Opera, with Elizabeth Sikora’s Annina and David Junghoon Kim’s Gastone particularly catching my ear. The chorus, on the other hand, sounded thin in the Act II divertissements.

Overall, therefore, an imperfect but still thoroughly enjoyable rendition of a classic production, with some promising new talent on show.