5 August 2014

Delightful La Traviata at the Soho Theatre

I was very keen to see OperaUpClose's production of La Traviata at Soho Theatre because I loved their version of Tosca at the same venue last year.

Normally the complexities of my diary mean that I get to see shows just before they close, and far too often that is on their last day, but this time those complexities meant that the best chance that I had to see it was on their opening night.

This time I came heavily armed with friends. They managed to eat and drink in comfort before the show but I had to rush back from Reading which left me only enough time for a bagel from the bar, but then I am used to living off just peanuts so this was a significant improvement.

Confusingly the Soho Theatre had changed their queueing system again and rather than cluster around the door to the bar we were allowed upstairs to wait in the disused bar on the second floor. Fortunately I was clued up enough to get the front row seat that I wanted. The place was sold out and soon we were being asked to shuffle along the bench seats to let more people squeeze in.

I had seen La Traviata before so I knew the basic story but hearing it in English was so much better and let me discover some of the subtleties in the lyrics, like the recurring themes, that I had missed with surtitles.

It was the first night and it took some of the singers a little while to get going properly, the second half was better than the first.

One singer who delivered from beginning to end was James Harrison, baritone, who I had been lucky enough to see twice before. He was my star on the night because of his strong clear singing and also the way that he played the role of the father with grandeur and grace.

The production was fairly minimalistic, as their Tosca had been, and that worked well, as it had with Tosca. There were three or four musicians hidden in a room off to the left and the set was quite shallow with, for most of the time, just one significant piece of furniture in it. I like my opera like that as nothing gets in the way of the story or the singing.

The slow start apart, there were no other obvious signs that this was a first night. The only minor slip that I noticed was that a couple of people had not learned how one of the doors opened. Nothing to get worried about.

La Traviata is a simple story of emotional ups-and-downs and this production captured the mood changes well to create a delightful evening, one that opera purists and novices could both appreciate.

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