19/06/2014 - 29/06/2014
11/07/2014 - 15/07/2014
14/07/2016 - 23/07/2016
(Auckland: 19 – 29 June; Wellington: 11 – 19 July)
New Zealand Opera opens its 2014 season with La traviata, Verdi’s most frequently performed opera. Featuring the famous drinking song, “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici”, and Violetta’s aria of freedom, “Sempre libera”, Verdi’s masterpiece is musical storytelling at its most spectacular, combining reckless love, masked revelry, family strife and self-sacrifice.
This new production, co-produced with The State Opera of South Australia and Opera Queensland, is created by the Australian trio who brought audiences this year’s beautiful and memorable Madame Butterfly: director Kate Cherry and her design team of Christina Smith and Matt Scott.
Aidan Lang, General Director of New Zealand Opera, says “Kate’s productions are always superb, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing how she and her team approach this fascinating work.
“We’ve also much to look forward to in the cast,” he says. “The role of Violetta Valéry – the ‘traviata’ or ‘woman who has gone astray’ – is one of the great soprano roles of the repertoire, and in Australian Lorina Gore we have a singer who combines brilliant vocal ability with a compelling stage presence. Her lover, Alfredo Germont, will also be sung by a bright young Australian, Samuel Sakker, who will make his NZ Opera début in this production, as will Scottish baritone David Stephenson as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio
Germont.” Also included in the cast are New Zealanders Jared Holt as Baron Douphol, Wade Kernot as Marchese d’Obigny and, sharing Gastone, Freemasons Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artist Oliver Sewell and Freemasons Resident Artist Andrew Grenon. Fellow Resident Artist Wendy Doyle sings Annima, with Laurence Walls and Andrew Grenon sharing Giuseppe. Completing the line-up is Australian David Hibbard as Doctor Grenvil.
Featuring the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus and accompanied by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Orchestra Wellington, La traviata will be conducted by the hugely experienced Italian-American Guido Ajmone-Marsan, who was last with NZ Opera in 2010 with Macbeth.
Auckland – ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
19, 21, 25, 27 June 2014, 7.30pm;
29 June 2.30pm
Wellington – St James Theatre
11, 17, 19 July 2014, 7.30pm;
13 July 2.30pm; 15 July 6pm
La traviata company arrives in Christchurch
30 June 2016 – New Zealand Opera’s production of La traviata arrives in Christchurch or the final two weeks of rehearsals ahead of a dazzling opening night at Isaac Theatre Royal on 14 July. The cast and creatives are available for interviews by request and there is an opportunity for filming and photography on Sunday 10 July.
From the same brilliant creative team who gave us Madama Butterfly, this is opera at its most sumptuous and beautiful.
Verdi’s heartbreaking tale sees Violetta forced to sacrifice her happiness and abandon Alfredo, the only man she has truly loved, to save his family from ruin.
This production of La traviata is a stunning feast for the ears and eyes. When playing in Auckland and Wellington in 2014 it was hailed as “not to be missed”, by the New Zealand Herald and “a brilliant success” by The Dominion Post.
Kate Cherry’s production is being re-staged for five performances at the Isaac Theatre Royal by Jacqueline Coats, with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and conducted by New Zealand Opera’s Musical Director Wyn Davies.
New Zealand soprano Madeleine Pierard is our beautiful but fragile courtesan Violetta with Italian tenor Enea Scala as her love, Alfredo and Phillip Rhodes as his father, Giorgio Germont. Christchurch-raised mezzo Rachelle Pike returns to the role of Flora.
Accompanied by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. Featuring the Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus.
Sung in Italian with English surtitles.
A co-production between New Zealand Opera, State Opera of South Australia and Opera Queensland.
Conductor: GUIDO AJMONE-MARSAN
Director: KATE CHERRY
Production Designer: CHRISTINA SMITH
Lighting Designer: MATT SCOTT
Violetta Valéry: LORINA GORE
Alfredo Germont: SAMUEL SAKKER
Giorgio Germont: DAVID STEPHENSON
Baron Douphol: JARED HOLT
Marchese d’Obigny: WADE KERNOT (KIERAN RAYNER 13, 15 July)
Doctor Grenvil: DAVID HIBBARD
Gastone: OLIVER SEWELL (Akld), ANDREW GRENON (Wgtn)
Annina: WENDY DOYLE
Giuseppe: ANDREW GRENON (Akld), LAURENCE WALLS (Wgtn)
Accompanied by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Orchestra Wellington
Featuring the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus
Madeleine Pierard – Violetta Valéry
Enea Scala - Alfredo Germont
Phillip Rhodes - Giorgio Germont
Rachelle Pike - Flora Bervoix
Amanda Atlas – Annina
Andrew Glover – Gastone
Robert Tucker - Baron Douphol
David Griffiths - Doctor Grenvil
James Ioelu - Marchese D'Obigny
Conductor - Wyn Davies
Director - Kate Cherry
Restage Director - Jacqueline Coats
Production Designer - Christina Smith
Lighting Designer - Matt Scott
Relight Realised - Jason Morphett
Choreographer/Assistant Director - Jesse Wikiriwhi
Theatre , Opera ,
Review by Naomi van den Broek 15th Jul 2016
As the prelude to Act I begins the curtain rises on a scene of dilapidation. The figure of our heroine, Violetta, lies collapsed on the floor next to a fallen chandelier, foreshadowing the end that we know she must eventually meet. In the large, faceted glass box-shaped set piece, we also see Violetta, on display, decked out in her finery. Violetta 1 rises from the floor and approaches Violetta 2 and they meet as the chandelier slowly rises. So begins this NZO production of La Traviata.
La Traviata (the fallen woman) is the story of Violetta, a courtesan. We meet her after she has recovered from a long illness and is throwing a party for her friends to celebrate. In an age where so many productions are forced – by budgetary pressures – to be low tech and understated, it’s a pleasure to watch something so sumptuous and lavish.
Kate Cherry’s production is opulent and lush, supported by striking design from Christina Smith and thoughtful and effective lighting by Matt Scott. The elements are homogenous and evoke the extravagant world of 19th century Paris in a manner that feels both considered and effortless.
Under the energetic baton of Wyn Davies, the cast and CSO perform with confidence and warmth, the balance between the orchestra and singers being managed effectively. The only low point of the performance is the Act III Prelude, which has some rather uncomfortable moments, and the beginning of this act, which loses momentum and feels a little underworked until the entry of Alfredo (Enea Scala). There are a few moments where we lose volume when the singers are positioned too far upstage, but overall the stunning music of La Traviata is delivered with passion and class.
The supporting characters – Flora (Rachelle Pike), Annina (Amanda Atlas), the Baron (Robert Tucker), Marchesse D’Obigny (James Ioelu) and Dr Grenvil (David Griffiths) – all perform with assurance and finesse. I do struggle to hear Robert Tucker’s baritone at times in the more complex ensemble moments, an issue that could possibly be addressed with more thoughtful staging.
The large chorus perform with energy and commitment although, at times, staging seems to be against them also. This results in some rhythmic issues which will hopefully resolve as the season continues.
A special mention must be made of the charismatic performance of Andrew Glover in the role of Gastone. From his first entry in Act I his performance is commanding and assured, and his delivery of ‘È Piquillo un bel gagliardo Biscaglino mattador’ with the male chorus is a real highlight.
Phillip Rhodes as Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, delivers an excellent and mature vocal performance. His delivery of ‘Pura siccome un angelo Iddio mi diè una figlia’ is masterful. However, personally, it’s just too much to ask of me to believe that Rhodes is any more than five years older than the man cast as his son. Perhaps if I was in the ‘nose bleeds’ the grey hair spray and beard might be enough to convince me, but from the stalls it is jarring and takes me out of the story.
There are also some awkward moments in the staging during Act II Scene I, where the intimacy of the blocking belies the relationship between the characters. It may look and sound great, but it doesn’t serve the story, and when Germont asks Violetta to “Embrace me as you would a daughter” before he leaves and she’s just been cradled in his arms for much of their duet, it’s a bit odd.
Italian tenor Enea Scala is perfectly cast as Alfredo: suave, charming and just the right kind of dishy and tender that can believably make Violetta fall for him and give up her lavish life as a courtesan. His performances in duet with Pierard are dramatic, showing real musical and sexual chemistry. Of particular note are the ‘Brindisi’ in Act I and ‘Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo’ in Act III. Scala presents us with an Alfredo who is relatable in his flaws, with an endearing egotism that can be forgiven when we see his very real love for Violetta.
But the night rightly belongs to Madeleine Pierard. Her honest portrayal of the richly nuanced character of Violetta oozes charm and easy sensuality from her first entry. Her portrayal makes it immediately understandable that Violetta would have been a great success as a courtesan; the audience falls in love with her at once. Pierard owns the first act as a woman totally in charge, and it’s not just her exquisite red dress that keep all eyes on Violetta as the opening act party progresses, it’s her confidence and self-assurance as a woman that are captivating: Violetta is a boss.
This magnetism engages the audience completely and so we care deeply as we see her sacrifice her love for Alfredo to ensure the happiness of his family, and we rejoice in her brief moments of happiness before her inevitable demise in Act III.
But let’s not forget Pierard’s vocal performance. Violetta is a demanding role, showcasing all of the beautiful vocal colours she has to offer. Her musicality, crystalline high notes, impressive dynamic range, and her flexibility and command over the coloratura passages are outstanding. The spoken word sections are equally impressive, richly and convincingly expressed. To single out one aria would not do her justice; her whole performance is completely controlled, yet at the same time impassioned and ardent.
La Traviata loses nothing in the translation for a modern audience. Violetta is a wonderfully strong and compelling character, and a reminder to modern audiences and theatre creators that female characters can be layered, have depth, and believable emotional journeys. Brava diva!
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Sumptuous and emotionally-charged
Review by Pepe Becker 12th Jul 2014
Full of reflected and refracted light and emotions, expressed within the context of the story’s societal ironies, this production of Giuseppe Verdi’s famous and most loved opera leaves one with a sense of warm positivity and a fullness of heart. This is definitely the case for me and fellow audience members as we leave the theatre under the light of a nearly-full moon in Wellington on opening night.
A co-production between NZ Opera, The State Opera of South Australia and Opera Queensland, it draws together the same wonderful creative leaders who brought us Madame Butterfly last year: Kate Cherry (Director), assisted by Jacqueline Coates; Christina Smith (Set & Costume Design) and Matt Scott (Lighting Design).
The first production with Stuart Maunder as new General Director of NZ Opera, it gathers together a splendid cast of truly international quality including, in the lead roles: Australian singers Lorina Gore (in her debut as the generous-hearted and ill-fated courtesan, Violetta) and Samuel Sakker (as her besotted and impressionable lover, Alfredo), and Scottish-born David Stephenson (as Alfredo’s father, Georgio Germont).
It is not only the fine execution of the music and dramatic characterisation that makes this production so appealing; the set design and direction are equal components in its success. Right from the opening scene, with a single fallen chandelier lying next to the ‘fallen’ Violetta (who then rises to look back, through the mirror of time as it were, at her carefree self in resplendent red), the subtle imagery and clever use of light within and around a central rotatable ‘jewellery box’ room draws our eyes and ears immediately into the drama as it unfolds.
Although the plot is simple, on the surface being a snapshot of ill-fated lovers as casualties of a glamorous society with ‘old world, first world’ problems, there are emotional complexities to be found within it. The contrast between superficiality and depth is aptly shown by use of red, white, silver and gold highlights in the otherwise mostly black costumes – the gold, for example, adding a sort of tarnished, garish effect to the vibrantly extravagant matador chorus in the second party scene, and Violetta’s red and white gowns signifying her carefree, life-loving indulgence and selfless true-loving sacrifice respectively.
Through the many layers of glitter and glam, propriety and pathos, irony and illness, recklessness and remorse, love and loss, we see threads which perhaps reflect aspects of Verdi’s own love-life experience, as well as that of Alexandre Dumas (fils), the author of the 1848 novel La Dame aux Camelias, which opened as a play in Paris in 1852 and which was the inspiration for La Traviata, the opera having its premiere in Venice in 1853. Dumas, it is said, drew inspiration from his short-lived affair with ‘kept’ woman Marie du Plessis for his portrayal of Marguerite, the Lady of the Camellias, and there are many parallels between Verdi’s relationship with soprano Giuseppina (‘Peppina’) Strepponi (a colourful character who had given birth to several children to different fathers, and with whom the composer lived for the latter part of his life), their liaison and lifestyle drawing similar criticisms from society as those directed at Violetta and Alfredo.
It is the lead characters who are the stars of course, the entire story focusing on Violetta’s demise, in which the two male protagonists (her lover and his father) play a direct part.
Lorina Gore is stunning in her debut in this huge role: she embraces Violetta’s generosity of spirit, vulnerability, self-doubt, selflessness, frailty and ultimate strength, with unwavering sincerity, as we are constantly entwined in the thread of her inner journey from being a kept woman enjoying only the surface of life, to opening herself to true love, to sacrificing her own needs for the sake of others’ reputations, to finally succumbing to her illness as she ultimately moves towards emotional and spiritual freedom. Her voice is flexible, clear and colourful throughout, with exultant fortissimo passages and vulnerable pianissimo phrases equally controlled, and though (as I know) it takes a sterling amount of effort to be so consistently ‘on the ball’, she never reveals that technical effort to us, rather transforming it into part of the physical and emotional struggle of her character – as a true artist does.
Her duetting with Alfredo has a musical and visceral chemistry which is a delight, and at times very moving. Samuel Sakker’s warm, rich tenor is very expressive, both powerful and vulnerable in colour, and although he is not as flexible in his body movements as in his voice (sometimes a little ‘held’), his portrayal of the smitten lover, who reacts with jealousy and scorn at his apparent betrayal, then returns once more to his beloved as she dies, is convincing and endearing.
David Stephenson is also excellent in his role as Georgio, the enforcer of social etiquette, at first confronting and arrogant, then remorseful and sympathetic towards Violetta as he comes to understand the true depth of her love for his son. Though his voice is perhaps less flexible and not so compatible with Lorina Gore’s in their duet passages, the contrast fits with the character dynamics and his consistently strong, stoic voice is well-suited to the fatherly role.
In general the ensemble work is well-timed, and in scenes where soloists and chorus intricately weave Verdi’s wonderfully romantic musical lines together, the effect is rich and sonorous.
With such an exceptional cast as this – from the lead roles, to the large Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus (brilliantly present and empathetic throughout, clearly well-prepared vocally by Chorus Director Michael Vinten, and also convincingly natural in the dance movements given them by choreographer Jesse Whikiriwhi), to the minor roles of servants, messengers, friends, aristocrats and doctor (taken by Rachelle Pike, Jared Holt, Wendy Doyle, Andrew Grenon, Wade Kernot, Laurence Walls, Christian Thurston, Frederick Jones and David Hibbard, all giving well-delivered characterisation, with Rachelle Pike’s confident and sassy Flora deserving a special mention) – the audience is immediately at ease and able to absorb, on a personal level, every emotion expressed.
The singing is underpinned by the fine support of Orchestra Wellington members who, under the baton of French-born Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, play expressively and dynamically (if at times a tad overpoweringly for some of the solo singers in their lower registers on this first night). The haunting melodies of the violin section, Moira Hurst’s mellifluous clarinet and Merran Cooke’s soulful oboe, provide particularly noticeable moments of beauty.
This is a sumptuous and emotionally-charged production, simple in design concept yet presented with a depth and sincerity that give it a timeless and universal accessibility. Congratulations to all involved in bringing this wonderful soul-stirring opera to life for Wellington audiences to enjoy. Various age-old sayings spring to mind during and after the show, such as “money can’t buy me love” and “all that glisters is not gold” – reminders, perhaps, that in a world where things are ever-more complicated, fast-paced and conflicted, it’s a rare treat to take time out to reflect on the “fundamental thing called love” and the peaceful joy which arises when it is given with a pure heart.
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Great singing with non-specific gowns and suits and chandeliers
Review by Simon Wilson 21st Jun 2014
From the moment the prelude begins, you know you are in for a great, engrossing story. There’s a lilting, hesitant, emerging melody, and there she is, Violetta, the consumptive courtesan, singing already. Dressed in scarlet, everyone else in white tie and black ball gowns, she commands the stage, fends off the men, and falls, of course, for the man who has fallen for her.
The role of Violetta requires a bold coloratura soprano: she’s got to pitch it high and bright, and then come straight back at you, higher and brighter, with more, and more, and more again, until finally (this being a woman dying of consumption after all) she winds it down again. Lorina Gore is up for all that, confident and resonant, and there are moments in her many arias where you are simply in awe of her tonal richness, her surety and her power. [More]
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Magnificence of La Traviata not to be missed
Review by William Dart 21st Jun 2014
There are those who railed at New Zealand Opera’s conservative offerings this year. However, in defence of this current, magnificent La Traviata, one must point out that Auckland last experienced this work nine years ago and that, in the final count, Verdi’s opera is a verifiable masterpiece.
Director Kate Cherry, designer Christina Smith and lighting man Matt Scott have created a spectacular staging. Each lift of the curtain introduces a new theatrical coup, yet the essential humanity of the characters locked into this world is never overwhelmed.
During Verdi’s poignant orchestral prelude, Cherry hints at tragedies to come – a wraith-like Violetta, awaking in a deserted ballroom, circles around her radiant former self, groomed and gowned for the opening party. [More]
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Impressive singing but lacking in chemistry
Review by Penny Dodd 20th Jun 2014
La Traviata is one of Verdi’s three greatest operas, written in 1853, based on the 1852 play based on Alexander Dumas fils’ novel La Dame Aux Camellias.
Violetta, a courtesan (or prostitute, or kept woman) falls in love with Alfredo, who has admired her from afar for over a year. They fall in love and Violetta leaves her courtesan’s life in Paris to live with Alfredo in the country. Alfredo’s father, Germont, is unhappy at his family’s connection with such a woman and persuades Violetta to relinquish her son. Because she truly does love him she is persuaded to give him up. Eventually Alfredo is reunited with her, and Germont is reconciled to their true love, but too late, as Violetta is incurably ill, and dies of tuberculosis in the arms of her love.
Violetta is based on a real woman, Marie Duplessis, whom Alexandre Dumas, fils, had an affair with in Paris. The real life story has Duplessis reputedly returning to her courtesan’s life of her own free will when the money runs out – somewhat less romantic a notion – but still dying of tuberculosis at age 23. The bones of the story appears elsewhere, in Camille, a movie starring Greta Garbo, and Moulin Rouge, a movie starring Nicole Kidman.
This is a co-production between New Zealand Opera, State Opera of South Australia and Opera Queensland. Director Kate Cherry, Production Designer Christina Smith and Lighting Designer Matt Scott were last in Auckland putting together the recent Madame Butterfly production for NZO.
The set consists of a cube, the size of a room in a house, with floor, walls and ceiling all in squares, not dissimilar to the bar in the Sky City Grand Hotel where we go for coffee after the show. (The bar has chandeliers too, it is rather like being in the opera still – a timeless, stylised opulent space.) Pieces of furniture – a chaise longue, some outdoor seats, define the purpose of each incarnation of the cube in different acts; the only signifier missing is a bed for the last act. There is a cushion on the floor, but it is inexplicably removed.
A large collapsed chandelier dominates part of the stage (a risk perhaps, collapsed chandeliers in nineteenth century Parisian locations having an already strong theatrical pedigree). The many chandeliers are made glorious use of elsewhere in the piece, particularly in Flora’s party, which seems to be set right inside one, and looks fabulous. As does Flora’s burnished ginger-gold silk gown, one of the most gorgeous of the many gorgeous gowns worn by the women.
The opening bars of the Prelude, pianissimo strings, are magical, foreshadowing the tragic ending and directed with much skill and sensitivity by conductor Emmanuel Joel-Hornak. Throughout the opera The Auckland Philharmonia plays magnificently, in perfect balance, providing strength and subtlety, and never overpowering the voices. The iconic clarinet floats effortlessly, the sound is rich and detailed, you can hear so much colour. The small offstage band is a delight too, a more spare chamber ensemble, creating a contrast to the lush sound of the full orchestra.
The singing is all of an impressive high standard. Lorina Gore triumphs as Violetta, in a role that must be one of the most demanding in the repertoire. She handles with ease the great demands of the first act, starting with the ‘Brindisi’, and finishing with the vivacious ‘Sempre libera’. Her stage presence is most commanding in the third act, with Violetta’s spirits swinging wildly from exuberance to frailty, making perfect sense of Verdi’s vocal writing for a dying heroine.
David Stephenson impresses as Germont, with an authoritative stage presence, and a fine strong baritone, making the most of his lyrical moments in ‘Di Provenza’. Wendy Doyle plays a most sympathetic and devoted Annina, giving much in warmth and character. Samuel Sakker as Alfredo has a fine voice, and acquits himself well in his arias.
A couple of niggles: while the singing is all perfectly wonderful, the onstage chemistry between Violetta and Alfredo is strangely muted; there is more possibility of a frisson with Germont (which would alter the story considerably). Alfredo comes across passive rather than passionate, and just doesn’t connect. The choreography, delivered with good grace by the indomitable Chapman Tripp Chorus, falls short. They look uncomfortable and deserve to be better staged than this. Bring on a handful of dancers who can lead in the front, and we’ll all feel a lot happier.
The Chapman Tripp chorus under the direction of John Rosser is impressive in size, strength and richness of vocal delivery. They are a magnificent asset to the Opera community, and many well-known soloists can be found in their ranks. Their contribution to the performance is a highlight.
La Traviata is a frequently performed opera, and for the best of reasons, it is a magnificent work composed by one of the greatest opera composers. To see it in a new production will always be rewarding.
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Shines, not sparkles
Review by Sharu Delilkan 20th Jun 2014
Auckland really set the scene for the opening night of Giuseppe Verdi’s renowned opera La Traviata with grey skies, cutting winds and the occasional burst of cold rain. On a night like this one might wish for a tragi-comedy or an uplifting story of trials and tribulations overcome by love and devotion. However clearly that isn’t the story told by Verdi which is essentially a story of a sickly courtesan manipulated by her male peers. Verdi’s storyline doesn’t leave room for much deviation from the theme, making it a challenging piece from a dramatic standpoint.
From the start we understand that Violetta Valéry (Lorina Gore) is a bit delicate but fortunately for her Alfredo Germont (Sam Sakker) is head over heels in love with her and is willing to give up everything including his family’s approval to live with her in blissful but destitute circumstances. Clearly this cannot last in a Verdi opera and following a number of twists and turns, the lovers are reunited just before Violetta succumbs to her only certainty in life – surprisingly just before her reconciliation with her true love Alfredo. [More]
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