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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some thoughts on La Traviata

I was in London today to see La Traviata at the Royal Opera House. This was slightly complicated by a tube strike! I was always intending walking there but had envisaged the tube home, as it was I walked part way and then hopped in a cab.

La Traviata is an opera by Giuseppe Verdi.

Act 1
Violetta is a courtesan who is recovering from an illness and throws her party, there she meets a young nobleman (Alfredo) who has been admiring her from a far. Her current lover Baron Douphol refuses to sing a Brindisi (drinking song) and Alfredo agrees to sing it.

The guests go into another room leaving Violetta alone. Violetta looks at her pale face in the mirror. Alfredo enters and expresses his concern for her fragile health, later declaring his love for her.

At first she rejects him because his love means nothing to her, but there is something about Alfredo that touches her heart. He is about to leave when she gives him a flower, telling him to return it when it has wilted. She promises to meet him the next day. 

After the guests leave, Violetta wonders if Alfredo could actually be the one in her life. But she concludes that she needs freedom to live her life. From off stage, Alfredo's voice is heard singing about love as he walks down the street.

The set looked lovely and the setting was traditional. Diana Damrau as Violetta has a lot to do and she was excellent a really lovely voice. None of the other characters have much of a chance to really shine. I did like the way Alfredo sang off stage  mimicing walking down the street.

Act 1 also contains the famous Brindisi one of those Operatic arias nor opera buffs knows when they hear it.

Act 2 
This is broken into two scenes. The first is set three months later in Violetta's country house outside Paris.

Alfredo discovers from Violetta's maid Annina that Violetta  there to sell the horses, carriages and everything owned by Violetta to support their country lifestyle. Alfredo is shocked to learn this and leaves for Paris immediately to settle matters himself. 

Violetta returns to find an invitation to a party from her friend Flora. Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, is announced and demands that she break off her relationship with his son because Violetta's relationship with Alfredo has threatened his daughter's engagement because of Violetta's reputation. Giorgio becomes impressed by Violetta's nobility. She responds that she cannot end the relationship because she loves him so much, but Giorgio pleads with her for the sake of his family. With growing remorse, she finally agrees and says goodbye to Giorgio. In a gesture of gratitude for her kindness and sacrifice, Giorgio kisses her forehead before leaving her weeping alone. 

Violetta gives a note to Annina to send to Flora accepting the party invitation and, as she is writing a farewell letter to Alfredo, he enters. She can barely control her sadness and tears; she tells him repeatedly of her unconditional love . Before rushing out and setting off for Paris, she hands the farewell letter to her servant to give to Alfredo.

The servant brings the letter to Alfredo and, as soon as he has read it, Giorgio returns and attempts to comfort his son, reminding him of his family in Provence. Alfredo suspects that the Baron is behind his separation with Violetta, and the party invitation, which he finds on the desk, strengthens his suspicions. He determines to confront Violetta at the party. Giorgio tries to stop Alfredo, but he rushes out.

The highlight of this scene is between Violetta and Giorgio Germont (Dmitri Hvorostovsky) this was beautifully sung you could feel the emotion between the two. The contrast in voices between Damrau (Soprano) and Hvorostovsky (Baritone) worked well. This totally over shadowed poor Alfredo (Francesco Demuro).

Scene 2 is set at Flora's house in Paris

At the party, the Marquis tells Flora that Violetta and Alfredo have separated, much to the amazement of everyone who had previously seen the happy couple. She calls for the entertainers to perform for the guests. Gastone and his friends join the matadors and sing.

Violetta arrives with Baron Douphol. They see Alfredo at the gambling table. When he sees them, Alfredo loudly proclaims that he will take Violetta home with him. Feeling annoyed, the Baron goes to the gambling table and joins him in a game. As they bet, Alfredo wins some large sums until Flora announces that supper is ready. Alfredo leaves with handfuls of money.

As everyone is leaving the room, Violetta has asked Alfredo to see her. Fearing that the Baron's anger will lead him to challenge Alfredo to a duel, she gently asks Alfredo to leave. Alfredo misunderstands her apprehension and demands that she admit that she loves the Baron. In grief, she makes that admission and, furiously, Alfredo calls the guests to witness what he has to say. He humiliates and denounces Violetta in front of the guests and then throws his winnings at her feet in payment for her services. She faints onto the floor. The guests reprimand Alfredo.

In search of his son, Giorgio enters the hall and, knowing the real significance of the scene, denounces his son's behaviour .

Flora and the ladies attempt to persuade Violetta to leave the dining room, but Violetta turns to Alfredo and begs her to understand his distress vowing her undying love for him: the baron swears to avenge the insult to Violetta.

The set is beautfiul! The scene is much more of an ensemble piece you get Gypsies and Matadors and it looks rather lovely. Alfredo gets to sing a bit more! He does come across as a bit of wet blanket, it of course it doesn't help that we know how noble Violetta is and that Damrau is so good!

I did like the way the scene finished with everyone seemingly frozen in place.

Act 3 Set in Violetta's Bedroom
Dr. Grenvil tells Annina that Violetta will not live long since her tuberculosis has worsened. Alone in her room, Violetta reads a letter from Alfredo's father telling her that the Baron was only wounded in his duel with Alfredo; that he has informed Alfredo of the sacrifice she has made for him and his sister; and that he is sending his son to see her as quickly as possible to ask for her forgiveness. But Violetta senses it is too late.

Annina rushes in the room to tell Violetta of Alfredo's arrival. The lovers are reunited and Alfredo suggests that they leave Paris.

But it is too late: she knows her time is . Alfredo's father enters with the doctor, regretting what he has done. After singing a duet with Alfredo, Violetta suddenly revives, exclaiming that the pain and discomfort have left her. A moment later, she dies in Alfredo's arms.

The overture to Act 3 is rather lovely and I can't help but wonder what Symphonies Verdi might have composed if he hadn't concentrated on Opera. Obviously the act is about Violetta's death and gives Damrau another chance to wow us and wow she did. She certainly managed to ring the emotions. The ending is very poignant and sad. A pretty memorable three hours.

Damrau was fabulous I've learnt that she was Female Singer of the Year 2014 at the International Opera Awards and I know why now. All credit to Dmitri Hvorostovsky who wasn't in the least overshadowed he and Damrau were magnificent together. Francesco Demuro doesn't have as much to do and his role lacked the emotional punch of the others. Still he gave a good Brindisi and he did well in the third act I thought.

The production was traditional, no mucking about setting it in 1960's and full of drugs. The sets were lovely. Oh and the Orchestra were good. What more do you need when sung this well?

We will ignore the numpty a few rows in front of me whose mobile phone went off and seemed to make little effort to turn it off (and I think there was another later!!).

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Hatfield Forest

It was dull and grey this morning so I just went for a wander in Hatfield Forest.

Alas no sign of the Moorhen and Canada Goose on the tree stump in the lake, too near to the wretched boats I guess. There were some ducklings which was good.

Quite a few Swallows zipping over the lake and I was pleased to see the two Great Grebes and one of them sitting on the nest. There were also two Common Terns and they were sitting on the Tern raft so fingers crossed we will get a nesting pair.

There were also the usual woodland birds afraid every potential Garden Warbler was a Blackcap! But there were a few Common Whitethroats. The Reedbed had a Reed Warbler perched up (males are smart chaps) and a Reed Warbler singing.

I just snuck a camera and a small zoom in my jacket pocket so no birds. Have some trees instead.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bach's St John's Passion performed by the Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall

On Saturday evening I went to see a concert.

I went to the Saffron Hall (apparently the UK newest purpose built concert hall) to see Johann Sebastian Bach's St John's Passion.

In church music, Passion is a term for sung musical settings, normally at least partly choral, of the Gospel texts covering the Passion of Jesus, the events leading up to the Crucifixion of Jesus, and emphasising his suffering.

I was sort of unsure of whether I was going to enjoy this but hey nothing ventured nothing gained.

First let me say it was beautifully performed  by the Britten Sinfonia, Britten Sinfonia voices and associated soloists.

The orchestra was 19 instrumentalists and there were 13 vocalists in the Sinfonia voices. Nicholas Mulroy was excellent as the evangelist and I really liked Julia Doyle's voice. Perhaps my favourite piece was Iestyn Davies arioso "Mein Herz, in dem die ganze Welt" was made this memorable was not Davies' voice, excellent though it was, but Richard Tunnicliffe's playing on the Viola da Gamba (hope I've got that right) it was very heart wrenching and the mournfulness sat well with Davies singing.

As much as I enjoyed it, and I did, I'm not sure it is something I'd rush back to see. It was good but not wholly my thing. I could appreciate the skills of the musicians and the beauty of the music but.......

The Hall is very nice, decent seats and not too crammed in, easy viewing as well. It was a bit stuffy. Sadly the hall was only 75% (?) full.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wrest Park

We left Harlow this morning in lovely sunshine but by the time we had passed Stevenage it was all foggy!! We almost turned back but persevered.

The destination of choice was Wrest Park, a truly lovely garden in the care of English Heritage

After lunch the sun came out!!

The gardens are lovely and EH are doing a fabulous job on the restoration. My lunch was soup which was nice but EH don't do catering well as I know from Audley End. e.g. no coke in the restaurant cold drinks cabinet I had to get that from the shop. Bread a bit stale.... ( You also had people queing to get in mixed with those purchasing stuff from the shop. Sorry shouldn't moan because it was a great day.