La traviata - Coliseum, 7 February 2013
This production epitomises what's right and what's wrong with ENO at the moment.
To begin on a positive note - the overall standard of singing is higher than it's been for a long time. Under-the-radar future stars, older singers who can still convince in the right role, and young British talent have been recent mainstays. Corinne Winters (Violetta), Anthony Michaels-Moore (Germont) and Ben Johnson (Alfredo) provide perfect examples. It's particularly encouraging to see Johnson (together with the other outstanding young singers on ENO's Harewood Artists scheme) excelling in successively more challenging roles.
The music is fine too. Michael Hofstetter's conducting was more diligent than enthralling, but he got the basics of pacing and balance right, and, as usual in recent months, it was hard for any but the super-picky to fault the orchestra.
But the production. Getting talented people to produce work that shows them in a poor light has been a hallmark of John Berry's tenure. Peter Konwitschny is a great example - a fine director, whose Munich Wagner productions are, for me, pretty much definitive. But you have to wonder why, in over 40 years, he hasn't (to my knowledge) touched Traviata before.
This is not a terrible production, but it's far from Konwitschny's most penetrating - and it's just not right for ENO. The spare, unsentimental perspective demands the enveloping closeness of a much smaller theatre than the Coliseum - such as co-producing Oper Graz, or DVD.
Konwitschny has lopped some 20 minutes off the music, together with the demi-monde context, the specific disease and even the love story. Everything except the curtains, in fact. His purpose is to force concentration on one angle and one person alone - Violetta, a woman who must face death, alone and stripped of her illusions.
The detailed acting seen on the Graz recording as Violetta gradually comes to terms with her fate could only be imagined from my seat in the upper circle. If you can't see that, Konwitschny provides little more than a wall of swishing curtains. I imagine anyone closer to the action had a more engaging experience. But, for the first time ever, I have to say I preferred the DVD.
Production photos: Tristram Kenton