La traviata, Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Klang, Queen Elizabeth Hall/Purcell Room, London
Carmen Giannattasio is ravishing as Verdi's tragic heroine Violetta in a hedonistic production
Sunday 09 November 2008
Time must have tempered David McVicar's hatred of La traviata. In 2003, besotted by the foul-mouthed, wise-cracking, piano-thumping heroine of his Lyric Hammersmith production of Camille, the play by Dumas fils, he said that he "could never do such a coarse, clumsy reduction of this woman". But his seductive, decadent, hypersensual Scottish Opera production is the work of a director more passionately in love with Violetta Valéry, and more angry at her death, than Alfredo Germont could ever be.
The production ends where it begins: shrouded in drapes and played out on a broken tombstone. But where other directors emphasise Violetta's dislocation from society, McVicar makes her confident, coquettish, the queen of the salon. Sourced from the paintings of Manet and Tissot, and the histories of celebrity courtesans, Tanya McCallin's luxuriously detailed designs draw us into a world of hedonistic indulgence. Glasses clink and shatter, plump grapes idle in bowls, ripe cheeses spread and relax, empty bottles of Moët pile up in the corner, dancers strut and strip to their pantaloons and chemises. Sparkling among the grandes horizontales, grisettes, intellectuals, dilettantes and aristocrats of the demi-monde, supine in the bliss-tangled sheets of her country retreat, or racked by the euphoria of her last breath, Carmen Giannattasio's Violetta is magnetic, Federico Lepre's weak Alfredo a star-struck Provençal.
From the intimacy of Annina's protective glares (Catriona Barr), to the suppressed outrage of Baron Douphol (Adrian Powter), the vulgar, high-spirited body language of Flora (Katherine Allen) and the tremor of desire that runs through Violetta when Alfredo first touches her, McVicar's detailing of the relationships is superb. Less successful, unfortunately, is the crucial encounter between Violetta and Richard Zeller's stiff-necked Germont – too rude, too quickly won-over – and some of the singing. Giannattasio is a splendid actress but she swallows her words and tends to shrillness, while Lepre's dry, cautious tenor has little sheen. In the pit, Emmanuel Joel-Hornak seems to have devoted most rehearsal time to the first violins, if not the first 20 bars, and is alternately over-indulgent of Giannattasio's rubato and insensitive to Lepre's lack of projection. It's a routine reading of the score in a far from routine production.
So to Klang, the South Bank Centre's tribute to Karlheinz Stockhausen. Nearly a year after his death, it remains almost impossible to assess Stockhausen's work without adopting one of two extreme positions. To devotees, he was a visionary; to detractors, a pedlar of obscurantist clap-trap. But what is an agnostic listener to make of a well-crafted score for 11 instruments that is disrupted by a mummy walking on stage with a gong? Is it viable to admire Stockhausen's craft while finding his extra-musical showmanship absurd? Should one really spend much of Himmels-Tür wondering how it is notated? And what does "success" have to do with "bliss", "goodness", "truth" or the 20 other unworldly words intoned over the soothing electronic wash of Tür-rin?
Asko/Schönberg's performance of Glanz – a courtly trio for clarinet, viola and bassoon, with interruptions from oboe, trumpet, horn and tuba – was as elegantly played as any 19th-century sextet. Reflective, introspective, playful, the musical dialogue is interpolated with declaimed sections of the Gloria, dazzling trills and a curious looping motif like the call of a genial donkey. Orchester-finalisten sees two choirs of instruments break ranks and step to the front over a tape of sea-gulls, jet-fighters, playing children and breaking waves; chattering into their mouthpieces, humming, sucking, speaking, singing, hopping, lying down, and, in the case of the double bass player who is interrupted by the mummy, falling over. Himmels-Tür, a 28-minute solo for percussionist (Stuart Gerber), describes a dream in which the performer beats at differently-pitched panels of a double door, is admitted to a clash of cymbals and an air-raid siren, and followed by a little girl (Caitlin Lunn) who silences the din. It's fascinating, beguiling, infuriating. But behind the choreography and greasepaint of revolution, Stockhausen's contrasts of speed, pitch and dynamics are as formally organised as any by Biber, Bach or Brahms.
'La traviata' (0870-060 6647) to 12 Nov, then touring
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