La Traviata, Coliseum, London

 

We were promised surprises in Peter Konwitschny’s ‘La Traviata’, and the first comes at the start.

For here Alfredo (Ben Johnson) is a timorous nerd, constantly hiding his face in the curtains which are virtually the only props in this old-fashioned Expressionist production; typing him as a bookworm, Konwitschny has him desperately clutching a book to his breast like a security blanket. Everyone on stage treats him with condescending pity, yet Corinne Winters’s Violetta falls head over heels in love. Terrified bemusement is his response as he scampers into the stalls and scrambles over the legs of Row A, rendering the first love-duet tricky across the footlights. She mystifyingly becomes absorbed in his book, and shows her contempt for her gallivanting friends by briefly mooning at them; unfazed by this casual immodesty, Alfredo too falls deeply in love.

Suspension of disbelief is no easier in the second act, where Konwitschny introduces a disruptive new character in the form of Alfredo’s sister, who (incredibly) is brought along by her father. Verdi’s libretto simply alludes to this woman, who thus functions in our minds as a pure counter-image to Violetta, and whose plight induces Violetta’s self-sacrifice. Regarding the libretto as implausible – social history is clearly not his strong point - Konwitschny decides Violetta needs a better motive, so Germont pere (Anthony Michaels-Moore) becomes an abusive father against whom she defends the girl in sisterly solidarity. And the girl herself is grotesquely misconceived: is this little school-kid in plaits really about to be deprived of happiness with her adult betrothed? What planet are we on?

That this act’s great emotional duel is not totally destroyed is thanks entirely to Winters’s pure-toned Violetta, whose every phrase is exquisitely shaped; this in itself compels a modicum of belief, as does Michaels-Moore’s resonant Germont. Ben Johnson’s performance as Alfredo is heroic, transcending his impossible character and delivering his arias with heart-rending plangency. Michael Hofstetter’s tempi are sometimes slow, but he coaxes lovely string sounds from the pit. The chorus scenes are vigorously choreographed, and the conclusion does represent an interesting directorial idea.

At two hours separated by an interval, Verdi found the perfect shape for his opera. Konwitschny’s unhelpfully abbreviated version runs without a break: another reason for first-timers to give it a miss, and wait for the revival of Richard Eyre’s definitive take at Covent Garden.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week