LA TRAVIATA. Director: Marí Borstlap. Cast (alternate): Brittany Smith, Lukhanyo Moyake, Siphe Kwani, members of Cape Town Opera and students from Opera UCT, members of the CTO Chorus. Conductor: Jeremy Silver. Chorusmaster: Marvin Kernelle. Choreographer: Kirsten Isenberg. Photographs: Danie Coetzee. Artscape.
BEVERLEY BROMMERT reviews
Any reservations entertained by purists or conservative opera-lovers ahead of a “reimagined version” of La traviata are soon dissipated by attending a performance of Marí Borstlap’s imaginative production.
While innovation plays a significant part in her reading of Verdi’s evergreen masterpiece, it is not at the expense of artistic integrity; it is largely confined to staging which lends it the timeless quality of the otherworld. Plot and characterisation are reassuringly familiar and respected; musically it is irreproachable. Cape Town Opera joins forces with Opera UCT to do collaborative justice to this classic of the opera repertoire, with splendid results.
Opening night found leads Brittany Smith (Violetta) and Lukhanyo Moyake (Alfredo) in superb voice, with an impressive début from Siphe Kwani as Germond.
Smith and Moyake both extracted every ounce of pathos from the tragedy of their personae in emotionally charged portrayals that stopped short of cheap sentimentality. Smith is particularly plausible in conveying the complexity of the eponymous lead, evolving from the hard-edged, brash glamour of a courtesan, all cleavage, flashy ensemble and stylish wig, into a demure, modestly attired young country dweller before her final transformation into an archetypal victim of bigotry, illness and death. Honesty and vulnerability underpin the character throughout to make her one of opera’s darlings, and Smith ticks all the boxes.
As her leading man, Moyake proved a worthy foil in terms of both characterisation and vocal proficiency. The couple’s tender duets and soaring arias rightly had members of the audience groping for Kleenex.
As for Kwani, he mustered a depth of portrayal and authoritative delivery astonishing in so young an artist, achieving a maturity far beyond his years. This is a baritone to watch in future productions.
A magnificent collaboration
Powerful and enchanting as ever, the chorus enliven festive scenes from La traviata with full-throated zest, revelling in the mindless hedonism of Violetta’s demi-monde. In these, the expertise of choreographer Kirsten Isenberg shows to great effect in the compact setting of Artscape Theatre (as opposed to Artscape Opera).
Of special note is the performance elicited from the orchestra by conductor Jeremy Silver, who mutes the volume of collective performance to enhance rather than drown the vocalists, providing exemplary accompaniment.
Skilfully devised costumes, set and lighting from Borstlap and her creative team cohere to promote the director’s ambitious endeavour in placing La traviata in the realm of the oneiric while retaining the social comment, tragic weight and enormous human appeal of the original.
A magnificent collaboration on which CTO and OU are to be congratulated.