Theatre Royal, Glasgow
19th October 2017

Opera is back in Scotland, & what a divine choice. With La Traviata, Verdi plunges a belladonna-tipped dagger into the vibrant heart of licentious 19th century Paris, where socialites erupt in scandal at every turn. As melodramatic as they come, it is probably after watching Verdi’s sublime masterpiece (conducted by David Parry) that some television executive first coined the phrase ‘soap opera.’ In 2017, as the silky black, heavy tree-bark curtains rose, Tanya McCallin’s startlingly luxuriant set was revealed & thus the action – & the music – could commence.

Lets drink from the joyful glasses where the beauty flourishes
Everything in the world is folly if there is no pleasure

At the heart of a euphoric ensemble lies a courtesan called Violetta – the fallen women – whose otherworldly warbling drives like a drunken sultana through the oriental flesh-pots of Verdi’s sensuous music. ‘A poor lonely woman abandoned in this desert called Paris,‘ her love for Alfredo has compelled her to sell off all her possessions in order to impress him. Think a modern-day, cocaine-snorting city hedonist with a purse full of credit cards. This perilous state of affairs then grows quite complicated with the introduction of Giorgio – Alfredo’s macchinating father – & incurable tuberculosis.

Violetta was played with poise & tragic alacrity by young Russian-Dutch soprano, Gulnara Shafigullina, only two years since her debut at the Volkstheater Rostock (Germany) with Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Projecting her gaze far into the distance, Gulnara is extremely sensitive to her part, with a vimful voice she wove her increasingly tragic melodies like an expert stitcher of tapestries, intertwining them with the moving singing of Alfredo’s lively Dutch tenor, Peter Gijsbertsen, who despite being a tad quiet at times, is still a marvelous actor who took emotion-bending to the next level. ‘I have forgotten the world – I feel like I am in heaven,‘ he sings in picturesque Italian, but complicating his love for Violetta was his disapproving father –  played by Stephen Gadd –  who sang with an obsidian-polished resonance & sported a most sublime moustache.

At the heart of La Traviata’s elongated yet elastic happenstance lies one of the greatest scenes in Opera; Flora’s Ball, full of dancing, bottom-bulging matadors; fan-waving, tambourine-tapping gypsies; & those living, breathing gargoyles of the Paris of Baudelaire. Candlelight, darling dresses, chandeliers & jewels; among them mezzo-soprano Lithuanian Laura Zigmantaite’s Flora struts with extreme & stand-out sensuality in a rose-pink dress, stealing the show for a moment, before Violetta enters in crimson with the Baron. So many levels, so much beauty.

I love this opera, Verdi’s sense of timing is impeccable, with each mellow lull leading to a champagne moment of cork-popping, note-fizzing enflourishment. ‘The drama is woven tightly into the orchestral writing,’ Susan Rutherford explained to The Mumble. Hyperdramatic but unpompous, the music & melodies sweep into the mind like brushes on an abstract painting – & it is all so much fun to watch. Production-wise, Scottish Opera have excelled themselves on this occasion, having collated & created a team full of debutantes & seasoned pros that springs bouyantly close to Verdi’s original vision.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
Photography : Jane Hobson

Scottish Opera presents La Traviata, at the Theatre Royal Glasgow from October 19th, before touring to Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh from November 2nd. 

You can buy tickets here.