We are uploading the review on Teatru Astra's La Traviata pened by Albert Storace which was publish on The Times of Malta last Wednesday 3 November 2010. The title 'A moving display of superlative craft' is a fitting tribute to a great production which makes Teatru Astra, Gozo and Malta proud.
With a trio of fine principals such as the ones on Gozo’s Astra Theatre stage, Verdi’s La Traviata cannot but succeed. Add to that a Malta Philharmonic Orchestra in fine fettle under Joseph Vella’s experienced and dynamic direction, a very well-trained chorus and an artistic direction which had lots to be admired (as well as including some reservations) and your evening at the opera is made.
The weather mercifully helped too – no bad weather to discomfort patrons from across the channel and no stifling indoor conditions, but most of that is beyond human control!
If one were to remark upon the production reservations above, one that was irksome was the lighting system. When one has singers so ably singing and acting their part, with superb voices expressing every nuance in the lyrics, underscored by a well-controlled orchestra, it was a pity that what they were able to convey with their facial expressions was often lost when their visage remained obscure. On the other hand, in Act II, scene 2 the neon lights were too bright and garish. There was nothing wrong with the spare sobriety of Mauro Tinti’s sets because these accentuated the interpretation of the singers and more attention was focused upon them.
A few discrepancies also surfaced in this production, vaguely set in the late 1920s/early 1930s. Not so much in the costumes (Luca Canfora with Astra stalwarts Manwel Grima and George Farrugia) which were colourful and stood out even more in the plain surroundings, but in Germont’s utterance about “tanto lusso” in Act II, scene 1 when there was obviously none of that. One missed too the table upon which Violetta was to write her forced farewell note to Alfredo. In the same act’s second scene there was nothing to distinguish the gypsy women from Flora Bervoix’s female guests as all ladies sang “Noi siamo zingarelle”, and again, later during this scene, some of the footwork of the three dancing matadors (members of Yada Dance Company) was lost when a number of characters were seated in the middle of the stage with their back to the auditorium.
Still there was a lot to recommend in Marco Gandini’s artistic direction. For one he has a knack for welding together all forces on stage into a smooth flow. Touches which proved very effective, and often resorted to by modern directors is that, instead of having the Preludes to Acts I and III performed to closed curtains, one saw some movement which created a lot of complementary poignancy to what the orchestra was conveying in its mood-setting capacity. The crowded atmosphere in both Act I and Act II scene 2 was very well-handled. He knew what he wanted from all singers and got it.
Soprano Miriam Cauchi in the title role was brilliant. She is a firmly established singing actress of the first order and in this role she made a smooth psychological transition from flippant and frivolous courtesan to a woman genuinely in love and who for that very love sacrifices herself unconditionally. She was the ideal Violetta who moves one to tears as in her heart-rending “Amami Alfredo!”, in her long scene with her Nemesis, Giorgio Germont in Act II and later in that act’s second scene with its great dramatic climax and her pathetic plea to the callous Alfredo, and right through the last act with the continuous ebb and flow of hope and despair. Her love duets with Alfredo were lovely and in her great aria “È strano… follie, follie!” she rose to great heights of vocal prowess and conveying of conflicting feelings pulling her apart. Certainly her love duets with tenor Alessandro Liberatore could not have been so successful and convincing if he were not up to the role as well.
He certainly was, with a beautiful voice and presence ideal for the part, singing with ease, passion and ardour. He was a convincing suitor in Act I and gave very good vent to his bollenti spiriti in Act II but was appropriately rash although, as things appear to him in the opera, Alfredo has every reason to be angry and disillusioned with Violetta. He was as convincing in his callous treatment of her at Flora’s party as he was almost immediately penitent by the end of that scene and even more remorseful, loving and hopeful in the last act.
Marco Chingari’s fine, full authoritative baritone as the spoilsport Germont was a lovely all-round contribution and who could not help being sympathetic to his point of view in the superbly rendered “Pura siccome un angelo” and “Di Provenza il mar, il suol”? The character eventually redeems himself, unfortunately, when the harm is done and anyway it is too late.
Excellent points to Maria Frendo for the coaching of the Astra Opera Chorus. The smaller parts were differently handled by a number of local singers. Soprano Dorienne Portelli carried off her part of Annina very well and so did baritones Giampiero Cicino as the mischievous Marchese d’Obigny and Ken Scicluna as Dr Grenvil. Could be it was her off-day but vocally I expected better of mezzo Georgina Gauci as Flora Bervoix.
Other parts were performed by a confident Frans Mangion as Gastone, baritone Joseph Lia as a rather stiff Baron Douphol, tenor Mario Portelli and bass Armando Tomasello.
(Photos: Joe Attard, Teatru Astra)