Wednesday, 22 September 2010


18/9/10, Volksoper, Vienna

The Staatsoper was dark; the Theater an der Wien, its smaller house, was offering Semele (would you believe?) and D vetoed yet another production of that (we wouldn't have got tickets anyway: Cecilia Bartoli was starring). So that left the Volksoper, Vienna's equivalent of ENO, though a good deal less plush.

Bernarda Bobro was Violetta, variously in a white shift, a dressing gown and an unflattering pierrot costume. Her voice was beautiful, powerful, lyrical, secure top notes, exactly what you want. But she was very dumpy and tended to galumph: not a convincing grande horizontale. Oliver Kook as Alfredo was a bit underpowered, stout, chunky and about the same age as the tall, European Morten Frank Larsen playing his father (rather well). Sometimes the degree of suspension of disbelief required of opera productions beggars, um, belief.

The directorial conceit had the whole thing staged as Violetta's dream on her deathbed. We first see her lying on it downstage right, her maid at the bedside, before the action starts (actually it was a substitute: the lights went out and the sub nipped off and Bobro nipped on at the beginning). There was a huge veil or gauze across the stage for art of the time; the revellers were dancing clowns in skull masks waving their arms in artistic poses. At the end the director managed to get Alfredo and his father kneeling and standing respectively centre-stage behind the gauze, singing at the audience, while Violetta is expiring off to the side. A mess. There was much use of the revolve and steps down through the centre of the stage for entrances and exits; plus a single door centre stage rear in the middle of the cyclorama. It meant getting the chorus and on and off was a long drawn out process.

The orchestral strings were a bit scratchy but well-paced (I take it this isn't Vienna's number one band).

There were moments that summoned the required shivers. Violetta's second act duet with Germont; Germont's song about the young girl at the end of tghe act; the duet with Alfredo towards the end. There's no question there are some great tunes: what a shame Verdi abandoned them in his later work; presumably he found them too easy.

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