LaTraviata; GlyndebourneTour

Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, 6 November 2018

The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury is a rare venue in that it seems to work acoustically and visually for every genre: “straight” drama, musical theatre, orchestral concerts – and opera. This elegant, intelligent production of La Traviata sits as well in this space as if it were designed for it. In fact, this is but one stop on a big tour in Glyndebourne’s fiftieth year of touring.

In the pit are 56 musicians – just visible from the circle –  supporting, accompanying and intensifying the action but never overwhelming it. From those opening mysterious pianissimo tremolo chromatics, repeated at the beginning of Act 3, Christoph Alstaedt  uses colourful dynamics and exquisite control to highlight the drama. There’s a gauze screen, behind which we can see Violetta’s bed as the lights gradually come up during the overture. It’s a strong directorial (Tom Cairns) idea.

Mane Galoyan gives us a restrained but charismatic Violetta in Act One. She is, after all, terminally ill, as well as the life and soul of her big party. She and Luis Gomes as Alfredo stroke the perfect harmonies in their first duet so that we feel and engage with every note. Later she brings all the passion and warmth the role needs and I loved the symbolism of everyone leaving silently from the stage a few bars before the end so that Violetta dies alone – as we all must.

Luis Gomes matches her well and is convincing in his love and there’s a stonkingly good performance from Noel Bouley as Alfredo’s interfering, later remorseful father. The work in Act 2 Scene 1 when he confronts Violetta is as chillingly touching as I’ve ever seen it.

There’s nicely directed chorus work and some fine choral singing (chorus master: Nicholas Jenkins) although it’s a strangely misguided decision not to have them back for a curtain call at the end. It was as if they’d been sent home for an early night. They deserve the credit they’re not granted.

Hildegard Bechtler’s sets consist mainly of three big screens which move a little to suggest two different party rooms, Alfredo’s country place and finally Violetta’s bedroom. It’s simple but makes effective use of the space on the Marlowe’s big stage with Peter Mumford’s dark lighting adding a lot of atmosphere especially in Act 3.

But the real hero of the evening is, of course, Verdi with his dancing melodies and gut-wrenching constructions such as the near perfect quintet in Act 3 which, in this production, is deeply moving. And what wonders he weaves with his much favoured triple time. Of course he uses it for lilting dances, drinking songs and set pieces but he also makes it work for some very solemn moments of high emotion and Altstaed’s attention to detail made me notice it more attentively than ever in this production. No wonder old Guiseppe’s work has been so popular for so long.

Susan Elkin

ENO revival of La bohème

Natalya Romaniw makes her ENO debut as Mimì in the fourth revival of Jonathan Miller’s production of La bohème 

After forty years and more than eighty revivals of operas from across the operatic repertoire, legendary director Jonathan Miller’s work returns to ENO in November with his beautiful 1930s-set La bohème. Inspired by the Parisian aesthetic captured by photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, this ‘beautifully integrated piece of music theatre’ (The Guardian) marks its fourth revival since its first outing in 2009. One of Britain’s most exciting sopranos Natalya Romaniw makes her ENO debut as Mimì.

One of opera’s iconic tragedies, La bohème tells of the impoverished poet Rodolfo’s love for the doomed Mimì during a freezing Paris winter, here updated from the 1830s to the 1930s. Miller’s naturalistic storytelling along with Isabella Bywater’s richly observed design make this a perfect example of a first-time opera for new audiences. The cast includes Jonathan Tetelman in his ENO debut as Rodolfo and ENO Harewood Artist Nadine Benjamin as Musetta, with three other Harewood Artists taking principal roles.

Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw is ‘one of the outstanding sopranos of her generation’ (The Daily Telegraph), hugely acclaimed for her roles as Tatyana inEugene Onegin for Garsington Opera (2016) and Welsh Nationa Opera (2017) (‘a Tatyana in a thouasand’ – The Sunday Times, ‘one of the performances of the year’ – What’s On Stage) and the title role of Jen?fa (‘a wonder to behold’ – The Daily Mail) at Grange Park. She was nominated for the Breakthrough category at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards in 2017.

Jonathan Tetelman is a fast rising tenor (‘a total star’ – The New York Times) who makes his European debut in this production. Praised for his singing of Rodolfo at Tanglewood earlier this year, he has won First Prize in the 2016 New York Lyric Opera Competition. His singing of Puccini continues in 2019 with a Cavaradossi in Tosca at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

Musetta is sung by ENO Harewood Artist Nadine Benjamin, in her second production with the company after her Clara in Porgy and Bess earlier in the season (‘one of the loveliest I’ve heard’ – The Times). She will appear as a guest on the Guilty Feminist podcast, recorded live at the London Coliseum on 27 November. With more than 50 million downloads the podcast is a comedy phenomenon, and will turn its attention to opera with a little help from Benjamin.

Baritone Nicholas Lester sings Marcello, having sung as the title role opposite Romaniw in Eugene Onegin for WNO.  Bass David Soar returns for a second engagement of the season after his Jokanaan in Salome, singing Colline after performing the role at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, earlier in 2018. ENO Harewood Artist David Ireland shares the role, singing in four of the fifteen performances.

Schaunard is sung by Božidar Smiljani?, sharing the role with fellow ENO Harewood Artist Matthew Durkan. He debuted with the company earlier in the year as the Marquis in La traviata. Durkan has been seen in numerous ENO roles, most recently as Hel Helson in Paul Bunyan at Wilton’s Music Hall, as well asDemetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fiorello in The Barber of Seville and Malcolm Fleet in the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Marnie.

The cast is completed by Simon Butteriss as Benoît and Alcindoro.

Conducting the production is Alexander Joel, former General Music Director at Braunschweig State Theatre, making his ENO debut. With a varied and impressive career on the continent, he was last in London to conduct Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House. He has been praised for his more than 100 performances of La bohème (‘Outstanding’ – The Spectator), having conducted it more than 100 times. He is assisted by ENO Mackerras fellow Valentina Peleggi, who will conduct the 20 and 22 February performances in her company debut.

Opens Monday 26 November (15 performances)