The perfection of this 1994 production makes it hard to be anything but grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy it again. And yet, its very familiarity adds something of an insult to the injury of Opera Australia’s paltry 2022 Melbourne offerings. With only two fully staged operas presented by Opera Australia in Melbourne throughout the whole of 2022, the fact that one of them has been seen so many times before adds to the disappointment.
Having triumphed in debut as Violetta last year on the Harbour, Melbourne-born soprano Stacey Alleaume recreates the achievement in her home town, her voice sounding even more exquisite in its natural acoustic form. A naturally endearing and engaging performer, Alleaume brings a warm humanity to the consumptive courtesan, underpinning the glamour with an aching vulnerability.
Alleaume’s rise to leading lady is all the more remarkable given the general lack of similar trajectories for Australian artists over the past several years.
In the second half of act one, Alleaume warmly draws the audience to her breast, delicately sharing Violetta’s dared dreams of protective love in “Ah, fors’è lui” before decisively launching into a soaring performance of “Sempre libera.” Alleaume displays the exceptional quality of her vocal technique in “Sempre libera,” pouring forth with ornamental phrases that are silkenly legato and yet in which each note can be heard in its own sweet right.
Entering Flora’s salon in act two, Alleaume is tightly coiled with Violetta’s all-consuming tension. With Violetta having collapsed to the floor in crippling shame, Alleaume’s heavenly soprano rises above the full company, practically draining the poor woman’s remaining spirit away with every phrase of “Alfredo, Alfredo, di questo core.”
In act three, after an exquisite rendition of “Addio, del passato,” Alleaume’s portrayal of Violetta’s physical pain is so convincing that it almost feels perverse to applaud, much as the acclaim is utterly deserved.
Maestro Renato Palumbo brings an exacting knowledge of Verdi’s celebrated score, leading Orchestra Victoria in a gently supportive performance with occasional flourishes of welcome individuality. As Violetta and Alfredo become acquainted on stage alone in act one, Palumbo keeps the brass deliciously festive, clearly conveying the gay Parisian ball that continues in the next room.
Revival director Constantine Costi matches the realistic proportions of Michael Yeargan’s classic scenic design with character and chorus work that is distinctly life-sized. This grounded approach enriches the story’s humanity, resulting in a deeply moving dénouement.
When lovestruck young Alfredo meets Violetta, Korean tenor Ho-Yoon Chung winningly portrays Alfredo as a hesitant wallflower who blossoms with confidence when his idol deigns to return his interest.
Taking the optional high C at the end of act two cabaletta “O mio rimorso!” proves unwise, with Chung’s lack of breath support resulting in a disappointingly flat note. To his credit, Chung puts this wobble behind him, and continues in solid form. His tone is particularly heroic in the final act, as Alfredo bravely sets aside his own fear and grief to provide comfort and hope to the ailing Violetta with “Parigi, o cara.”
Singing with a rich, darkly burnished tone, Italian baritone Mario Cassi conveys the full authority of Giorgio Germont with his commanding vocal performance. Alleaume and Cassi are well matched, Alleaume expressing the plaintive pain of “Dite alla giovine, sì bella e pura” in her very body while Cassi’s Giorgi imparts the subtlest hints at Giorgio’s encroaching empathy as he holds steadfast to salvage his family’s honour.
Chorus master Paul Fitzsimon has the Opera Australia Chorus exceptionally well prepared, with finely spun piano and pianissimo sequences, in particular, achieving a wonderful delicacy.
In sparkling voice, Celeste Haworth brings out the charismatic vivacity of Flora, with a highlight of her work coming at the top of act two, scene two as Flora hosts a glittering soirée.
With judiciously understated vocal strength, Richard Anderson captures the solemnity of Doctor Grenvil. Alexander Sefton commands attention as Violetta’s current lover, Baron Douphol.
Alleaume’s wondrous performance is all the reason that is needed to see the current season of La Traviata. Future engagements of Alleaume’s are also keenly anticipated.
It is strongly hoped that moving beyond the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic will see something of a return to previous scale of production from Opera Australia for the arts-loving theatregoers of Melbourne.
Man in Chair reviewed Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: La Traviata 2022
Man in Chair reviewed La Traviata, Melbourne 2018
Man in Chair reviewed La Traviata, Sydney 2015
Man in Chair reviewed La Traviata, Sydney 2013
Man in Chair reviewed Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: La Traviata 2012
Photos: Jeff Busby