Visually, this is one of the most striking productions I've ever seen. It opens on opulent red theatre curtains which are drawn aside to reveal - more red theatre curtains. The entire set is comprised of layers of curtains, and a single chair. But all is not what it seems - first we realise that it is only beautiful lighting that created the grandiose beauty of the opening image - the curtains are not made of velvet but rather a flimsy see-through fabric. As we progress through Act I, they constantly billow forward and we observe that they are flimsier still than we imagined when we see that they have vertical black lines that create a trompe-l'œil effect. Later, in Act II, the back drop curtain is lit only from the side making it look ragged and soiled, and at the end of the act when everything goes wrong for Violetta the curtains collapse one by one and are dragged off stage by the crawling chorus. For the final scene the stage is empty save for an unilluminated black curtain at the back of the stage and the debris of the previous night's party. Violetta doesn't die on stage but merely wanders out of her spotlight into the dark oblivion of the curtain.
Werner Kmetitsch, Oper Graz
This is not Corinne Winters!
Most of the action that I haven't mentioned is quite conventionally staged in terms of character interactions so no one need fear that they won't understand or that this production is too concept driven to be recognisable as La Traviata. Lots of the novel ideas here I have seen before in other productions - Germont dragging along the talked about younger sister (though here she is disturbingly young for marriage), Violetta injecting some unknown substance after Alfredo says you should look after yourself (though here it's administered by the doctor), and various Brechtian tropes that seem incongruous and without referent in the milieu of the ENO in 2013.
The singing is generally decent. Corinne Winters makes a very solid stab at the famously impossible vocal demands of the role of Violetta and her coloratura at the end of Act I was surprisingly nimble. She inserts the unwritten Eb with confidence. The other two acts seem more comfortable still and she whips out a very natty trick of very quickly and smoothly fining down her tone from forte to pianissimo quite a few times. There's not much variation in the vocal colour though, and whether happy or sad, partying or dying, the timbre basically sounds the same. The direction is very physically demanding, but it causes her to over-act, and I wonder whether the staging was too abstract to feel fully engaged with the character. Or perhaps unrealistic "theatrical" acting is what Konwitschny was asking for as part of the concept, but it felt a bit alienating and I wasn't much moved by any aspect of anyone's performance. This is a chilly version of the opera, but presumably we're meant to feel something...
Ben Johnson's Alfredo is very awkward and self absorbed, again devoid of genuine feeling - all my analysis above of the opera was based on acting that was clearly meant to demonstrate these attitudes rather than really embody them. As I say I can't be sure that this wasn't Konwitschny's intention as I haven't seen his other productions. Anthony Michaels-Moore Germont is played along similar lines. Vocally both men are very good without being outstanding - very secure, and solid throughout their ranges, but also a little monochromatic.