Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

La Traviata

Clonter Opera Theatre
Clonter Opera Theatre
16 July 2016 to 23 July 2016

Choosing an ever-popular Verdi work for its 2016 production, Clonter could be in danger of just going over old ground, but under the direction of Christopher Cowell we experience a fresh approach.  For a start, as he tells us, the stunning staging was inspired by going back to the original Dumas the Younger’s novel, leading to the visual style of the Viennese world, Gustav Klimt in particular. 

With this brief, the brilliant designer Eleanor Wdowski (a past MTA nominee for previous designs at Clonter), has gone to town. The whole of the action blazes with gold, taking place within three walls abstractedly daubed with the stuff and a huge corner piece like a peacock’s tail straight out of Klimt.  Indeed, the set is more like an artist’s studio, with Violetta having her portrait painted, than her salon. But it works, and the style is carried through to her costumes, especially her full cloak worthy of a Klimt portrait. 

The one-set-for-all, dazzling as it is, presents some problems. For the lovers’ retreat in Act 2, we have to make do with a sort-of Turkish-themed becushioned tent at one side. Inspirationally and amusingly, Flora’s apartment in the next scene is achieved by some nifty scene-shifting by the cast. More gold. 

Cowell also looks for the underside of the superficially glitzy, party-loving, champagne-drenched circle of the courtesan Violetta. This, after all, is a tragic tale of The Fallen Woman. Having found true love at last, after being used and scorned, she agrees to give it up for the sake of her lover’s family. And all the time, she is suffering from the illness that proves fatal. 

The key figure, of course, is Violetta, and in Marlena Devoe we have a real star. The show is worth seeing for her alone. Born in New Zealand, the Samoan soprano is absolutely spellbinding from her first entrance, when she advances slowly towards us, like a beautiful model on a walkway. As she comes to a halt, various men, one by one, approach and touch her. She is, after all, a sexy courtesan. 

Devoe has a real stage presence and a gloriously soaring voice. She seems to deal with the high register and coloratura passages of the heartwarming arias effortlessly and confidently. She is also a consummate actor, covering the range from flirtatious to despairing. Compelling and convincing. 

She is surrounded by a fine cast, particularly tenor Peter Aisher (an astrophysicist-turned singer), who captures the character of Alfredo, the shy poet with a secret love for Violetta, maturing into her true love. They sing splendidly together. 

Sopranos Turiya Haudenhuyse, as Violetta’s caring companion Annina, and Natalie Sinnott (previously heard at Buxton), as vivacious courtesan Flora, sing beautifully. Piran Legg, as Alfredo’s scheming father Giorgio, is an impressive baritone. Edward Laurenson (Baron Duphol), Rhys Alun Thomas (Violetta’s doctor), Richard Shaffrey (friend Gaston) and Guy Booth (Flora’s protector) make up a strong cast. 

Happily, the whole show is under the secure hand of conductor Clive Timms, who works wonders with the 12-strong Clonter Sinfonia in realising Verdi’s wonderful score.

Repeated July 18 (mat), 19,21,23.





Reviewer: Philip Radcliffe


Comment by Robert Beale

Agreed very much. I shall be very surprised if Marlena Devoe does not become a well-known name in a short while. She seems to take her body language and facial animation from the music itself and blend Verdi’s formulas into a portrayal of a living, breathing person. Peter Aisher, too. I loved the way the ‘false start’ introduction to the Act One toast song was made into Alfredo nearly bottling out of doing it altogether and then finding his courage.