La traviata, Opera Up Close, Soho Theatre, review: 'Could speak louder with a little less volume'

Can what is gained in intimacy ever make up for what is lost in scope?

We all know the score by now with OperaUpClose: operatic classics on a shoestring, in a shoe-box.

In this case, five singers and three instrumentalists tackling Verdi’s La traviata in the 150-seater Soho Theatre. Can what is gained in intimacy ever make up for what is lost in scope?

Harry Blake’s tight orchestration for cello, clarinet and piano certainly gives it a head start – carefully deploying colours and textures to suggest what his limited forces don’t allow him to state.

It’s a flexibility lacking in Robin Norton-Hale’s English libretto however, which limps and staggers, tripping up singers with its wordy convulsions.

It’s not clear what a Jazz Age setting adds to the drama (except a jarring confusion between American speech and English-accented singing), but everything certainly looks stylish.

Director Norton-Hale’s cuts are extreme, but work neatly enough, though incorporating moral stickler Germont into Flora’s sybaritic revellers rewrites the tale rather dramatically.

One of three alternating casts, Prudence Sanders and Robin Bailey make a passionate Violetta and Alfredo. Neither fully embraces the studio space however, or takes advantage of the musical opportunity to woo rather batter an audience into romantic submission.

With a little less volume this traviata could speak far louder.

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