La Traviata, Royal Opera House, London

2.00

A 'Traviata' on shaky ground

If Alfredo's love for Violetta is indeed "the heartbeat of the universe", as he so ardently proclaims in the very first scene of La traviata, then this revival is urgently in need of open-heart surgery. It has been a year since the last exhumation of Richard Eyre's tepid staging, since when the temperature has dropped significantly. No fear of the elaborate ice sculpture at Violetta's party melting prematurely now; but some concern that our heroine will actually make it to Act III. There are many ways of dying on the operatic stage and, for Ana Maria Martinez, it began to look as if consumption might not be one of them.

The Puerto Rican soprano sang some performances of Violetta at the last revival, so her circumspection and awkwardness in Act I were doubly puzzling. This is, after all, her party and she, as her profession dictates, is a lady well used to keeping up appearances. You could certainly have fooled me that she was in the least bit interested in Alfredo, however well she sought to hide her feelings from the assembled company. He, too - in the figure of Charles Castronovo - barely registered on the Richter scale. By the end of the act, I was reminded of the old Hollywood joke - "If we ever have an affair and I find out about it..."

Rather more worrying, though, was the increasingly inescapable realisation that both singers were desperately over-parted in the roles. Martinez sang a nervous Act I in which passion and abandon were nowhere. Remember, this is a woman losing control. But Martinez sang so carefully and with so little fervour that the idea of love turning her world upside down became less likely with each passing bar. And then, to top it all, the fizzing pyrotechnics of "Sempre libera", far from sounding and feeling frivolous, had all the tensions of an audition piece.

The aria cannot and must not sound like a challenge. But Martinez, at the limit of her possibilities, even inserted a lower-octave appoggiatura to help spring-board her (only just) to the required top note in the unaccompanied section of the aria, and, not for the last time in the evening, fell prey to dodgy intonation. It was not an auspicious start for this Violetta. Or perhaps she was wondering, as I was, when she might call in the decorators to attend to the ill-fitting rotunda of the designer Bob Crowley's now tatty-looking salon.

At least Castronovo's bantamweight Alfredo displayed an ease of delivery and gracefulness of phrase that conveyed both youth and wealth. I like the covered warmth of this voice, and his refusal to push it where it does not naturally go. He's an eminently musical singer, but is slightly beyond his natural fach in this role. A bigger and more charismatic sound is ideally required.

We certainly got big and charismatic with the Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic as Germont senior. A fine voice. But what of the long-breathed, enriching legatos that at least hint at the compassionate soul beneath the stern patriarch? Lucic's stolid phrasing suggested all the compassion of a tax inspector.

But I guess what really finally sunk this lacklustre revival was a desperate lack of inner-tension. And for that I blame the conductor Philippe Auguin. He made his debut at Covent Garden with this opera back in 1994, so again, unfamiliarity cannot account for the clumsy inelegance of his conducting. I lost count of the sticky rubatos and awkward corners; climactic releases such as Violetta's "Amami, Alfredo" in Act II seemingly arrived from nowhere. There was no dramatic logic, no through-line to this conducting. It was, in two words, shapeless and passionless.

Things did at least settle somewhat for the final act. The beauty of the writing almost guarantees as much. Martinez was more comfortable in her demise, drawing some pathos from her forlorn pianissimos. At last, too, some sense of courage and resolve. But it came too late for Violetta and, more to the point, this performance.

In repertory to 30 January (020-7304 4000)

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital