La Traviata REVIEW: Lisette Oropesa breathes new life into Verdi’s most popular opera

I cannot remember when I last saw the entire audience at the Royal Opera House rise to their feet to applaud a singer, but rarely can a full-house standing ovation have been better merited than the one given to Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa on the opening night of Verdi’s La Traviata on 27 October.

This singer has everything: a beautiful voice, flexible enough to convey great extremes of emotion, superb acting ability, and the ability to dominate the stage and captivate the audience totally. Even more remarkably, this was the 17th revival of Richard Eyre’s glorious 1994 production of Verdi’s most popular opera, yet thanks to Oropesa’s stunning performance, it looked fresher than ever.

Of all the boy-meets-girl, they-fall-in-love, girl-dies operas, of which there are many, La Traviata has perhaps the most dramatic and intense plot. The second act is especially well constructed. We have seen good-time girl Violetta (Oropesa) fall in love with Alfredo (Armenian tenor Liparit Avetisyan) for whom she will give up her former evil ways. 

Now they are living together but Alfredo’s father (German baritone Christian Gerhaher) enters the scene intent on spoiling their bliss. He tells Violetta that Alfredo’s attachment to a fallen woman (that’s what ‘Traviata’ means) will bring shame on the family and wreck the marital prospects of Alfredo’s young sister. Instead of telling him that he is a bigoted old fool, Violetta consents to his demand that she leave Alfredo.

All this time, she’s been dying of tuberculosis and in the final act, she sings a beautiful aria before collapsing in Alfredo’s arms. I doubt that I have ever seen the audience at Covent Garden so quiet and still as while Oropesa was softly and plaintively singing this. They even saved their coughs for the brief orchestral passages between the verses.

Throughout the opera, Bow Crowley’s set designs were sumptuous and impressive, and Avetisyan and Gerhaher played their parts excellently, but all these were just supporting acts to the glorious performance of Lisette Oropesa. One does not expect yet another revival of a 27-year old production to be anywhere near as good as this, but it was a wonderful evening.

The ROH has two different casts for the present run of La Traviata and three singers taking the role of Violetta. Oropesa has set a very high standard for the others to follow.

  • Information and tickets: 020 7304 4000 or roh.org.uk (until 17 November)

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