One of the most performed opera in the world, Hampstead Garden Opera's version of La Traviata is updated to the swingin' sixties. Camille LaPaix pops on her Mary Janes and takes a look:

First performed in France on 6 December 1856 in Italian, La Traviata is famously one of the most performed opera in the world. Perhaps this is why every company fights tooth and nail to revisit the eversofamous piece, trying to twist and turn the story into a breath of fresh air while still keeping it close to home for the purists in the audience.

Hampstead Garden Opera’s production certainly does that, bringing a tornado of swinging sixties. In its midst is Violetta (Julia Bachmann), a high-profile socialite, barely recovering after being bedridden for months. At a party, she meets Alfredo (Sergio Augusto), a young suitor fervently in love with her, and decides to desert her life of frivolities and partying to follow him to the countryside, privately providing for their lifestyle. Heartbreak befalls when Alfredo’s father implores her to break off their liaison and save his daughter’s engagement. A woman’s reputation is worth more than her happiness, apparently.

La Traviata Hampstead Garden Opera

Julia Bachmann & Sergio Augusto (image courtesy of Laurent Compagnon)

In Sophie Gilpin’s production, accentuated with its youthful cast and ensemble, you cannot help but get swiped up in the fast-tracked atmosphere of the sixties – La Traviata resonates with an air of sexual revolution. Women are partygoers, smokers, social drinkers, and full-rounded characters.

Shining through is Bachmann and her impeccable range, not only singing-wise but acting-wise as well. Her soprano timbre brings you to your knees, whether she is adoringly confessing her love for Alberto or bidding him farewell. She dazzles with buoyant spirit, youth and poetry, nuancing backbone and brittleness like a maestro, and playing her voice like a virtuoso with a bow.

La Traviata Hampstead Garden Opera

Julia Bachmann & Sergio Augusto (image courtesy of Laurent Compagnon)

Musically speaking, the Hampstead Gardens Opera’s production of La Traviata wins my heart. Cocooned in an orchestration reduced to twelve, the intimacy of the space allows the arias to take fly. Violetta’s Addio del passato gives you the urge to hold the hand of someone dear; Noi siamo zingarelle venute da lontano has the entire audience beating in time. Bachmann’s vocal range allows the audience to follow Violetta through her own journey and turmoil in becoming one of opera’s most dignified heroines.

As Alfredo, Augusto appears enamored, petulant and ready to sacrifice any inch of his soul for Violetta. But there is something game-changing and grounding about Michael Birnbaum as Germont Père. In the storm of such fast-paced opera, trimmed to fit its Off-West End parameters, Birnbaum’s tranquil, gentle and anguished performance is almost a relief. It breaks the pace, bringing in a multi-faceted character who, in turns, makes you feel heartbroken, plucked and sympathetic.

La Traviata Hampstead Garden Opera

Esmee Bronwen-Smith (image courtesy of Laurent Compagnon)

The issue with La Traviata lies in its slovenly staging, highlighting some awkward and unfortunate directorial choices. The swinging sixties’ fashion is not that obsessed with heels – flats and Mary Jane shoes were very much preferred – so  choosing high heels for a main character who has to run up and down wobbly stairs while belting out an aria is not the wisest of choices. Additionally, the less than smooth transitions in between scenes can easily break the charm of such a tale. Reducing an opera can work beautifully, but unfortunately, it can also sometimes leave you with an aftertaste of narrative abruptness, rushed as we are through the storyline.

Nevertheless, the superb musical performance made me leave Jacksons Lane almost like Violetta: hopeful for love, cherish and human connection.

 

 

★★★☆☆

La Traviata runs at Jacksons Lane until 27 May 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.