There is a famous story of Mendelssohn and Liszt walking through the streets of Paris after a concert by Chopin. After a few blocks, Mendelssohn couldn’t restrain himself any longer, and asked Liszt why he was shouting. Liszt replied that he hadn’t heard a fortissimo all evening.
Chopin’s playing was not, of course, soft all the time, but even in forte there was always a gentleness, a tenderness to his sound. In her performance of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, presented by Opera Queensland, Lorina Gore achieved exactly that. And what pianissimi! When she started the great duet in the second act, “Dite alla giovane” it was just a thread of voice, yet it pinged all the way to the back of the house. The same in “Addio del passato” in Act 3. And even in the coloratura that precedes her decision at the end of Act I not to abandon her life as a courtesan, “sempre libera”, her virtuosity never got in the way of the tenderness with which she imbued the entire role.
La Traviata is Verdi’s most chamber-music-like opera, and its heroine, like Chopin, is dying of tuberculosis, so Gore’s approach to the role fitted perfectly. She is the queen of soft! I could hear every word, and she is such a fine musician, there was not one note she sang that was not expressive of her character’s emotions. I have seen this opera countless times, and I have never been so moved.
She was well supported by the other two main principals. Kang Wang has a superb, powerful tenor, the colour of polished bronze, which can ride over anything that Verdi can throw at it. While his singing is brilliant, his acting I thought was less so. The climax of the opera happens when Wang’s character, Alfredo, throws his gambling winnings at Violetta in an act of violent public humiliation. The director, Sarah Giles, had Violetta reviving this terrible moment in her last hours of life. This inspired piece of direction would have worked much more powerfully had the scene been played more strongly in the first place, where instead of a display of wounded anger, Wang seemed almost cold and contemptuous. While this could be justified in terms of the character – Alfredo is a spoilt, shiftless neer-do-well – dramatically it just didn’t work for me.
The role of Germont, Alfredo’s father, was sung by José Carbo. I am always reassured by Carbo’s presence on stage – he seems to live in Italian opera, it’s just his natural habitat. His warm baritone in the second act when he persuades Violetta to abandon Alfredo beautifully disguised the moral ghastliness of his request – that Violetta, being a prostitute, is tainting the family name by consorting with Germont’s son, and that their bourgeois honour is being ruined, so could she forget about loving his son.
The creative team for the opera was headed by conductor Dane Lam and Sarah Giles. I have seldom been so impressed by the unanimity of purpose of director and conductor in an operatic production as I was in the care these two people gave to the music and the action. Lam understands that the chamber-music-like delicacy of most of the score is not just a matter of scale, but also of intimacy, and he supported Lorina Gore’s wonderfully intense soft singing with great delicacy. Among the beautiful touches the transparent orchestra gave us I must single out Irit Silver’s exquisite clarinet solo in the second act.
Giles’ direction was similarly respectful without being at all servile. She had researched what being a courtesan (we don’t have that word nowadays, it has been replaced by “socialite”) in 19th century Paris was like. Understanding that the opera is all about Violetta – she is onstage for practically the entire piece – she realised that she did not need to underline the impossible position of women then, or indeed that not enough has changed since that time, because this is unmissable. Her direction never obtrudes into the action but always supports the drama, which I think she understands profoundly.
This entire show was beautiful. And in it is enshrined what is one of the great operatic performances of our time, Lorina Gore’s Violetta.
Opera Queensland presents
Director Sarah Giles
Venue: Lyric Theatre | QPAC, Cnr Grey and Melbourne Streets, South Brisbane QLD
Dates: 14 – 23 July 2022
Tickets: $75 – $185