Now, whilst I am painfully aware that I am no longer in the first flush of youth, I do still consider myself at least relatively young. I have never been on a cruise; I do not own a tartan shopping trolley; and I do not (yet) say "aaaaaaah" after my first sip of a cup of tea. I do, however, like the opera - something which still prompts some surprise in those who clearly regard opera as the preserve of the posh and the elderly rather than someone who is prone to drinking too much Prosecco and falling over on a night out. The always-magnificent Opera North are on a bit of a mission to prove that a night at the opera is a wonderful thing no matter what your age, and specifically set out to attract a new audience in the spring with La Boheme (a huge success - more than half of the Leeds audiences were new to Opera North). That mission continued this week at Salford's Lowry, with another crowd pleaser set in Paris and perhaps the best-known opera of the lot: Verdi's La Traviata.
As is typically the case with opera, the story is a straightforward one: girl meets boy and sings a beautiful duet with him (in this case, it's a courtesan named Violetta and a handsome young man called Alfredo); circumstances break them up (here, it's Alfredo's father, Giorgio, who convinces Violetta to leave Alfredo as she is besmirching the family name and preventing his daughter's chances of marriage); love wins through (hurray!); then finally a heartbreaking ending (I hope I'm not ruining any surprises when I suggest you take note of the nasty cough Violetta has from Act One). The story isn't the point really - and indeed, its simplicity is a blessed relief for those of us whose Italian is a bit ropey and who would rather not bother reading all the subtitles that pop up on the screens in front the stage. The brevity of the plot leaves you free to listen to the beauty of the music - and La Traviata is packed full of familiar tunes that pretty much everybody will know, most notably perhaps "The Drinking Song" (which someone was rude enough to point out on Twitter that I was bound to know).
Being Opera North, the staging is slick and modern and clever, from the lengthy trip round Violetta's lungs at the beginning to the breathtaking night sky that provides the backdrop to a glorious party near the end. The cast are as good as we have come to expect from Opera North, with Hye-Youn Lee particularly charismatic as Violetta and putting in an extraordinarily powerful vocal performance that I failed utterly to reproduce in the car on the way home. The only thing I didn't like about the whole production was the fact that there were two intervals. This broke the performance up too much for my liking, although to be fair there is no obvious halfway break due to the second of the three acts having two scenes. Still, it did provide double the amount of opportunities for the consumption of wine, so it's a very minor quibble.
Next time Opera North are back in Manchester it will be with something a bit more cheery - Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Keep an eye on their website for further details - and don't forget to leave your shopping trolley at the back...
- photos taken from the Opera North website - photo credit: Richard H Smith.