King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 3rd October 2018
“artistic lighting creates a snug, clandestine ambience, with resourceful and imaginative scene changes”
Far from 1850s Paris, we enter through the sleazy glow and pulsating bass of the King’s Head Theatre into present day England for a new take on Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’. Stripping the story to its core and adapting four main roles to fit the update, Becca Marriott and Helena Jackson recreate the life of Violetta as a pole-dancer who chances upon Elijah (Alfredo in the original), reluctantly dragged by his father into the club where she works, and finds true love. Although a chunk of Alfredo’s story of male friendship and rivalry has been omitted, this adaptation adheres to the original idea of social reputation by making Elijah’s father anxious for his own political career (rather than unable to marry off his daughter) and he manages to persuade Violetta to leave his son. The ending moves away from the melodramatic tableau of the heroine dying in her lover’s arms, to an angry re-encounter of the couple and, while clinging on to his image, her decision to find her own freedom.
The combination of Amanda Mascarenhas’s red-tinged set and Nic Farman’s artistic lighting creates a snug, clandestine ambience, with resourceful and imaginative scene changes. In contrast to the grandiose, full-scale productions, this one concentrates on the intense relationships between four of the opera’s characters, Panaretos Kyriatzidis’ arrangement of the orchestral score for solo piano working well as an accompaniment. Oliver Brignall’s expressive tenor tones capture the changing moods of Elijah – nervous, enamoured, angry, impassioned. However, the strident power of Becca Marriott’s singing dominates the occasional duets they have. Talented as both librettist and soprano, she interprets Violetta with anguish and desire but could shape the music with more variety of dynamics and articulation. The intricacy of the coloratura in ‘Sempre libera’ is lost and we miss the spiritual quality of her final scene. Michael Georgiou as Sinclair, Elijah’s father, is the only one to compete with Marriott in volume with his strong yet lyrical voice. He adds a light-hearted mood at the beginning and, later, unnerving persuasion with Violetta and Elijah. Flora (Gemma Morsley) commands the stage as she oversees her nightclub but, despite showing her true vocal potential in a couple of instances, she is barely audible in the group passages.
Verdi’s ensemble writing is such an important part of his operas. The threads of the plot weave together and the parts need to be balanced to be able to appreciate the narrative and the music. A readjustment in certain sections would give everyone a chance to be heard. This ‘Traviata’ may not have the uplifting contrast of the big choruses or the intrigue of the sub plots, but its contemporary slant and abundance of wonderful arias make it an enjoyable taster for those unfamiliar with opera.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Bill Knight
King’s Head Theatre until 27th October
Previously reviewed at this venue;