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But the colours – the piping hot wind bands of the streets

Posted on 20 July 2010

But the colours – the piping hot wind bands of the streets – despatch their own vitality, and the reedier timbres of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment woodwinds (not least their wonderful first clarinet, Antony Pay) were here deployed to delicious effect. Elder makes no apologies for Verdi’s infelicities, kicking up the dust of those beery chorusings with rude abandon. Don’t miss her.
A second cast (a third in the case of pere Germont) may yet provide other good reasons for revisiting Richard Eyre’s dressy but dramatically bland staging (which in one sense – and isn’t this the curse of the repertoire house? – makes it so much easier to revive). Unfortunately, you are saddled with the same conductor, Simone Young, throughout the run. Her sole contribution to this evening was a forceful, generalised energy which at best skimmed the surface of Verdi’s best intentions, at worst press-ganged cast and orchestra into some decidedly awkward corners.To hear Mark Elder, “in concert” on the following night, find nuance and fascination and a keen selective energy in a score far less well-endowed than Traviata was to appreciate the extent to which a true Verdian can breathe life into even the still-born.

In despair that she will die so young (“Gran Dio! morir si giovane”) she rallies with a darkening defiance in the voice. For a moment, she believes, you believe, that she will live for ever. Gheorghiu, on the other hand, will constantly surprise you with new colours, new shadings, new intensities. When she sings “My body is in pain, but my soul is in peace”, that’s what you hear Not the singer, not the technique, everything but A numbing fragility. It’s too plain, unyielding, resistant to the vocal endearments that are its heart and soul It’s as if we’ve now heard his entire vocabulary.

“Love is the heartbeat of the universe – mysterious, exalted, both pain and pleasure,” sings Alfredo, but I don’t see “behind the eyes” of Alagna’s phrasing. But add to that her musicality, her natural ability to find the emotional centre of every phrase, to make that magical connection between the letter and spirit of the score, and you’ve a recipe for enchantment Would that her “other half” shared it. In Act 1 of La Traviata they share the same music, but it’s what they succeed in expressing through that music that illustrates the extent of the artistic distance between them. Her well-deserved triumph on Monday night gave further notice of a career which is already delivering more than it promised only a couple of seasons back.

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