Opera’s heart of gold

4 February 2019

Review: West Australian Opera, City of Perth Opera in the Park, La Traviata⋅
Supreme Court Gardens, February 2 ⋅
Review: Rosalind Appleby ⋅

For roughly 15 000 people in Supreme Court Gardens it was a night of chandeliers, velvet gowns and love. The insect repellent and picnic faded into the background as singers and musicians from the West Australian Opera and West Australian Symphony Orchestra brought La Traviata to life at Opera in the Park.

La Traviata was Verdi’s first venture into romantic realism and the story of a high class whore with a heart of gold has been one of opera’s top ten since its 1853 premiere. It’s a bulletproof opera and a safe bet for the annual Opera in the Park especially when conducted by WAO’s outgoing artistic director Brad Cohen and sung by a cast of local stars.

With the help of six large screens and racks of speakers the onstage action was projected across the park and broadcast live to regional centres around the state. The sound production was impressively crisp and clear although the camera operators were sometimes slow to find the appropriate singer.

The use of digital set design projected on the shell of the stage was a fabulous (wind resistant!) innovation. Vibrant red curtains framed the action and the French windows and chandeliers in Act One were an elegant backdrop to the love story of Violetta and Alfredo.

A soprano in glistening white evening gown
Elena Perroni grows into a noble Violetta. Photo supplied.

Elena Perroni made her role debut as Violetta manipulating her seductive velvet soprano with impressive technique. The soprano graduated last year from the Curtis Institute of Music and displayed her versatility and stamina as she transitioned across three acts from flirtatious courtesan (‘My day dawns and dies in pleasure’) to the vulnerable and noble lady who stole the hearts of everyone in the opera (and audience).

Paul O’Neill sang Alfredo with typical ardour, wooing Violetta with gleaming long lines touched with huskiness. James Clayton brought an unexpected warmth to the role of Alfredo’s father Germont – this is the man who breaks up their relationship after all! Ashlyn Tymms was an eloquent Flora and Rebecca Castellini, Jun Zhang, Mark Alderson and Robert Hofmann sang supporting roles.

The WA Opera Chorus under guest director Francis Greep sang with vehemence and immaculate sound.  Cohen shaped a sensual journey from his masses, from voluptuous chorus and ensemble numbers to the intimacy of Violetta’s Act Three dialogue with solo violin.

The decision to dispense with a director and instead present a concert performance had mixed results. The lack of movement (why are the characters in the conversation singing from opposite ends of the stage?) and the absence of props (where was the letter they kept talking about?) made the libretto confusing. It was an effort to suspend disbelief but eventually Verdi’s music won over and the abstract presentation of this most passionate of operas found a devastating route straight to the heart.

Pictured Top: Paul O’Neill and Elena Perroni. Photo supplied.

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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