Becca Marriott and Helena Jackson may have reduced La Traviata to a core storyline in two hours, but nothing of the emotion is missing from this revised opera. Camille Lapaix reviews:

England, 2018. This version of La Traviata opens with a melancholic prelude, reorchestrated by Panaretos Kyriatzidis and stripped down from the high strings to a single piano. Eye-candy Violetta (Emma Walsh) earns her keep by dancing in an exclusive late night gentlemen’s club. A chance encounter involving multiple drinks and a haphazard lap-dance puts her in the way of Labour MP Sinclair (Victor Sgarbi) and his son, the shy composer Elijah (Alex Haigh) – Alfredo in Giuseppe Verdi‘s original work. As hearts and hopes collide, so too does the world of the powerful and pocketful with that of the powerless and penniless.

La Traviata King's Head Theatre

Emma Walsh, Alex Haigh, Victor Sgarbi & Gráinne Gillis (image courtesy of Bill Knight)

The aria Libiamo ne’ lieti calici, now Let’s Drink in Becca Marriott‘s revised text, sets the destinies of two polar opposites on the same course in La Traviata. It’s the path of love and internal struggle perfectly captured by Walsh’s acting and accompaned by the sudden tempo changes in Kyriatzidis’ score:

“Oh joy I never wanted – / to have a man to lean on.
I’d be mad to refuse him, / and stay here in this prison / I call my freedom.
Ah, could he be the one I sought – / quiet in all the madness – / list’ning to how my heart cried out – / hearing my song of sadness?”

Don’t worry, Violetta, we’ve all been there.

La Traviata King's Head Theatre

True to the original, Violetta does not exeunt with a parade of vocal acrobatics, but rather with a candid melody – pure, distinguished and wretched. In the climactic aria Addio, del passato, her goodbye to “bitter memories” and “vain daydreams of flying”, Violetta is at her most psychologically vulnerable (gone is her tuberculosis in favour of mental health struggles). This epilogue is a testament to Walsh’s true vocal power as Violetta places her abiding trust in the transforming and redemptive power of love.

The central love story stays faithful to the original libretto, but this version of La Traviata has interestingly been purged of many original elements. It condenses the necessary storylines into almost two hours of flying arias and chilling showdowns, with Amanda Mascarenhas‘ space the perfect setting for both silence and twists. And through Helena Jackson‘s artistic and directing choices, La Traviata is nothing but an heartbreaking triumph. The passages of lament – from a broken heart to a suicide – are raw and humane, decent rather than brash. Musically the score is decluttered, and it works. The evocable dexterity of Kyriatzidis deserves its own virtuosic concert and Walsh’s vibrato is precisely balanced, as are the harmonies in the ensemble numbers.

La Traviata King's Head Theatre

Emma Walsh & Alex Haigh (image courtesy of Bill Knight)

This production of La Traviata may be a reduction, but it doesn’t take anything away from the original work. In particular, it echoes social morals as they were always intended – a story that calls out the hypocrisy, misogyny and sexual politics at the heart of European society. The moral ambiguity stirred by Violetta is still there, responsible for her own errors yet also a pawn at the hand of a tragic irony. In 1853, Violetta was held accountable because of her sexual promiscuity – then again, as a courtesan she did was she was expected to, didn’t she? Today, Violetta is responsible on account of her unstable mental health.

But was it Violetta’s fault to be thrown out on the streets because she was tainting the reputation of a politician who must be “purer than pure untouchable, / wearing a mask of virtue” by being in love with his son?

La Traviata King's Head Theatre

Alex Haigh & Gráinne Gillis (image courtesy of Bill Knight)

La Traviata is a classic work, and this version allows for both nostalgic memory and novel introduction. It satisfies every desire, just as Violetta promises:

“Are you ready? Don’t move. Let me show you all you’ve been missing, a world full of love.”

★★★★★

La Traviata runs at the King’s Head Theatre until 26 October. For more information or to book tickets, visit the venue website here.