By Antony Clay | 09/03/2017


at Cast, Doncaster
(March 8-9)

IT was great to see Verdi’s famous opera La traviata play to a packed house at Doncaster’s Cast Theatre. I imagine that was equally pleasing to OperaUpClose which has staged an impressive and emotional production, pared down in terms of performers and musicians but more effective and intimate because of it.

La traviata means ‘the fallen woman’ and tells the tale of a doomed love affair between Violetta (the fallen woman in question who has a bit of a past) and her beau Alfredo.

It’s an opera so obviously things don’t run smoothly. Alfredo’s father, the politician Germont, steps in to scupper the relationship. He says that Violetta’s past means he can’t marry off his daughter Flora as her linking up with Alfredo has tainted his family name, so he urges Violetta to walk out which, reluctantly, she does.

Alfredo is distraught and angry but eventually learns the truth and seeks out Violetta, now sick and dying because of her ruined romance. They meet again, love blossoms and forgiveness flows, but tragedy doesn’t wait in the wings for long.

The plot is a well-used one: love erupts, love is quenched, love is saved, death concludes proceedings. But, as an audience member said at the end of the performance I attended, “you can see why they keep performing La traviata”. It has power, resonance, high drama, and some great songs and music.

It is basically a story all about guilt. Violetta feels guilty about walking out on Alfredo even though she still loves him. Alfredo feels guilty for hating her for it. Flora is so guilt-ridden that she looks after Violetta during her final illness, presumably because she knows the romance was broken only to make her into marriage fodder.

Germont, though, is the most guilt-ridden of all. Even as he asks Violetta to leave Alfredo, he realises he is doing it for his own ends and is clearly torn, but as she lays dying at the end he realises he has misjudged her and brought about a calamity. As he says: “I could not understand you, you were too generous. I refused to see you as you were.”

In the performance I saw, Andrew Mayor was outstanding as the torn Germont, ultimately tragic because of his moral emptiness. The audience could see his character crumble as the show went on.

Philip Lee gave a sterling performance as Alfredo, in turn naive, gullible, broken but always ultimately dedicated to Violetta. He is as much a victim as Violetta is, perhaps more so as he is the entirely innocent pawn in this family chess game.

Dario Dugandzic as the Doctor and a rather sinister Baron and Rosie Middleton as a much abused and trapped Flora gave impressive depth to their performances. 

But it is Violetta who is the fulcrum around which the whole performance spins, and Elinor Jane Moran excelled as the woman who will always be looked down upon by society because of her past. Whatever Violetta does, she can’t win. Even as she is happily in love, Germont’s demand to spurn his son makes her realise she can’t ever find true happiness. “So much for all my freedom!” she cries.

Violetta has to display the biggest range of emotion in the production, and undergo the most suffering, and Moran’s interpretation was thoughtful, powerful and believable. She made the audience care about the character trapped by circumstance, hypocrisy and fate.

It’s a great show and the music coming from just a piano, cello and clarinet offers the sort of intimacy and simplicity that draws people in, emphasises the words of the songs, gives more by being less.

I look forward to seeing more by OperaUp Close. If the group's other productions are as good as this, their aim to bring exciting and innovative works to the people is bearing fruit.