Standing ovations are not uncommon at the Artscape, but rarely does the audience leap to its feet so emphatically as it did so on the opening night of La Traviata.
The doomed tale of two star-crossed lovers – Violetta, a celebrated courtesan suffering from tuberculosis, and Alfredo her most loyal admirer – would be recognised by many as the opera that reduces Julia Roberts to tears in Pretty Woman. Set in Paris in the 1850’s, the era of Victorian morality (and contradiction), what starts out as a passionate love story soon turns to heartbreak, as Alfredo’s father calls an end to the relationship in order to save his family’s reputation.
The extent of joy and sorrow and torment experienced by the lovers was expressed beautifully on opening night by the exceptional and fresh voices of Noluvuyiso Mpofu (Violetta) and Thobela Ntshanyana (Alfredo). Supported by an able cast, on a fantastic set that looked like a Visi cover, it was nonetheless Mpofu who carried the show and had the audience thrilling to her voice.
As director Angelo Gobbato expressed in his programme note, “the opera is so well constructed that it appears foolhardy to me for a director to attempt to do much more than to assist the singers in fulfilling Verdi’s original intentions.” In this he achieved, but at the expense of direction on the acting, which at best lacked conviction and at worst (the Mardi Gras scene) simply didn’t work.
Nonetheless conductor Kamal Khan, the UCT Symphony Orchestra and the Cape Town Opera and UCT Opera School cast’s combined talents created a harmonious and passionate performance, belying their recent budget cuts with a real on-stage glamour.
This proudly South African production is a must-see for everyone, not only avid opera-lovers, and the story’s appeal for the freedom to love whoever you choose remains universally relevant.
La Traviata runs at the Artscape Opera House 30 April to 9 May 2015.