Monday, August 21, 2017

Well-tuned dramatic intent accompanies BK Opera's simple but effective La Traviata

Simple but effective, with a few notable performances, although not without issue, the heart of Verdi's La Traviata remains in place in BK Opera's latest production.

BK Opera chorus, La Traviata
A woman's portrait shaped by soft-coloured camellias forms the centrepiece of the company's sharp-looking promotional material, an idea that no doubt stems from the source of Verdi's popular mid-period work, Alexandre Dumas' 1848 novel, La Dame aux Camélias or The Lady of the Camillias. They also come incorporated into director Kate Millet's work as back-wall projections as part of a range of flowers in a botanical parade of time-lapse photography of blossoming beauty. They're succulent and sexual but they don't strike with theatrical impact in the small display field they are allotted below the prominent English surtitles.

There are no shortage of clever ideas brought to the table in an overall vision that balances the background of gaiety and an accumulation of fateful circumstances that envelop Violetta Valéry's world but some are not resolved in a way that enhance the audience's experience. The large space of the arch-ceilinged Reid Street Auditorium is pleasantly serviceable for the cast of young singers but the results are mixed with the audience seating placed perpendicular to a small open stage area facing a central aisle where some of the action occurs.

In a fine start, Act 1 opens with a small, lively ensemble of bunny-eared sex kittens ready to party at Violetta's salon in every which well-choreographed raunchy way. In their see-through light silken ivory outfits, the feel is 1940s, attractive alongside the attending men in black and white formals. Together, they do decent work of setting a scene of debauchery and harmonising richly in voice.

Rada Tochalna as Violetta
The aisle works a close-up treat for Act 2's encounter between Violetta, a radiant Rada Tochalna who lays out a beautifully paced interpretation and breezes firmly through ornamentations, and Giorgio Germont, a role well considered in portraying him as Alfredo's brother and who Josh Erdelyi-Gotz brought warmth, forthrightness and emotional weight. But the effect was compromised by lighting that the audience's eyes take a direct hit from.

Violetta's bedroom, scene of Act 3, starts well enough on the stage, though wasn't there something more than a hall chair that Violetta could sit ill and dying on? Tochalna made the most of it as the confidence and drama in her performance took a further leap but the final tragedy is played out sprawled on the aisle floor, blocked from view. Had the area been raised, the desired effect could have been delivered more effectively for a dying Violetta being nursed by a distraught Alfredo, who Patrick MacDevitt brought bull-at-a-gate temperament and a jealous streak to but tended to push vocal warmth through an overwhelming roaring forte in the top range with it.

In smaller roles that include Beth Paterson's pasty-gothic Flora and Stephen Carolane's upbeat Gastone, Finn Gilheany makes the biggest impression with his warm and burnished-voiced Barone Douphol. The role of Violetta's maid, Annina, is doubled and delivered with sweet humility by Alicia Groves and Lara Vosciano. Dottore Grenvil is, positively why not, a female doctor - for this, luscious and creamy mezzo soprano Lisa Lally elevated a minor role memorably after her solid contribution as part of the chorus.

Music comes supplied by a string quartet, at their best in a soul-searching rendition of Act 3's opening aching lament but a tad more fine-grained work was required for the overall night. Pam Christie does an expert job at piano and, taking lead, conductor James Penn exercised attentiveness in giving the tempi effectual variations. The music's separation from the main stage area on the opposite side of the hall, however, seems to take something away from Verdi's powerful and sumptuous score.

Diving into the deep end, BK Opera are providing valuable performance experience as a platform for young singers. Now with three productions to their credit, the signs of well-tuned concepts and dramatic intent are evident but some nutting out in bringing this to the audience would reap further benefits.

BK Opera
75 Reid Street Auditorium, North Fitzroy
Until 26th August

Production Photos: Third Life Photography

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