Manchester Theatre Awards

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

La Traviata

Piave and Verdi
Ellen Kent
Opera House, Manchester
09 March 2018

It’s one of the vagaries of Manchester’s cultural planning (or lack of it) that you wait ages for an opera to come along, and then six of them arrive in the same week. In the last two of the five days that Opera North have offered three different shows at The Lowry, the Opera House manages to stage two of Ellen Kent’s, with a third to follow on Sunday.

Friday’s was La Traviata, in a production that, in all major features, we’ve seen before, and Violetta, the eponymous ‘fallen woman’, was again sung by the Ukrainian soprano Alyona Kistenyova, as in 2014.

The story is that of the innocent romantic, Alfredo, and the courtesan who discover true love for the first time, only to have their bliss interrupted by his meddling father and finally shattered by her death from consumption (it’s The Lady Of The Camellias, adapted).

While Opera North consistently excel in the sheer quality of their productions, almost sweeping the board for nominations in Friday’s Theatre Awards ceremony – and they should, with £10m of Arts Council money in their coffers every year – Ellen Kent’s productions have the virtue of presenting operas in virtually the same settings and style as they would, mostly, have originally been staged. It’s simple story-telling, period costumes, big voices – and my goodness it still works.

La Traviata first came to Manchester 161 years ago (and was then condemned by the Manchester Guardian critic as ‘a compound of vice and sickly sentiment’), but today’s Opera House audience, drawn from a remarkably wide age-group, got into its raw emotions and gave it a roaring, whistling reception such as you would never hear from the more staid patrons of Opera North at The Lowry. Ellen Kent must be doing something right, albeit with limited resources.

Alyona Kistenyova is a lovely singer and shone particularly in her last-act Addio del passato: she can act a dying consumptive without compromising on her voice quality or going into paroxysms of coughing (which always starts a Manchester audience on the same thing). Her Alfredo this time was the young Spanish tenor Giorgio Meladze, who has plenty of power in his voice and excellent top notes, though slightly wayward in his tuning. Father Germont was Moldovan bass baritone Iurie Gisca, who won the audience’s plaudits for his impassioned delivery even though his characterization was (to my taste) somewhat monochrome.

Conductor was Vasyl Vasylenko, who comes via Odessa Company in Ukraine (their own production of this opera was one of the best that Ellen Kent toured here in her heyday), and he drew flashes of fire and fervour from his orchestra.

Saturday’s Ellen Kent show is Madama Butterfly, and Sunday’s is Rigoletto.

Reviewer: Robert Beale