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Throwing the first black flower


DAVID WILKINS experiences Wroclaw State Opera's Traviata


The disappearance of the erstwhile Iron-Curtain means that we now have the opportunity to welcome a constant stream of visiting opera and ballet companies from all points East to a variety of British venues. Sympathy for their financial plight is as honourable as it is natural but shouldn't replace fair critical judgement. Some are good and others less so.

The State Opera of Wroclaw has been touring a couple of Verdi war-horses around the U.K. and I caught their single performance of La Traviata at the Congress Theatre in Eastbourne. Given the obvious limitations of a life on the road, production values were high and, on the musical level, the company clearly harbours at least two very interesting soloists.

The innovation of Adam Hanuszkiewicz's production is to introduce a quintet of dancers who represent Death and his spirit accomplices who weave in and out of the action, seemingly unseen by the protagonists. This is a thought-provoking idea and introduces the inevitability of Violetta's fate from the very first notes of the Prelude when dark-cloaked Death throws her a first black flower. A case, perhaps, of it all being over even before the fat lady sings!

Actually, she wasn't fat and she sang rather well. Violetta is, of course, a role which Joan Sutherland described as 'a killer' and Schwarzkopf - having seen Maria Callas make it her own - decided to leave well alone. Jolanta Zmurko has plenty of vocal agility for the Act One coloratura with even 'Sempre libera' holding few terrors. She can't as yet, however, grow into the deepening pathos later in the opera. The crucial central duet with Germont had something of touching vulnerability but not enough womanly control to make 'Dite alla giovine' truly heart-rending. The Act Three 'Addio del passato' had a fine line but the Italian went out of focus and, though full of promise, isn't yet the stuff to make statues weep.

Andrei Kalinin was a light and lyrical Alfredo but not really engaging. Coming across as somewhat whimpish, you were left to wonder how he could possibly have engaged the final infatuated passion of such an experienced woman.

Maciej Krzysztyniak's burnished baritone of a Germont was altogether better. In fact, it's a rather tedious role: appearing from time to time to spread his treacle-thick hypocrisy and slow the dramatic action to a standstill. But, ah, what music and very well conveyed here. I always count it a triumph when you don't want to greet Germont's launching of 'Di Provenza il mar' with a barely-suppressed exhortation to 'get on with it.' In this case we were persuaded to patience and allowed a genuinely affecting wallow.

Tomas Sreder conducted a reduced orchestra to reasonable effect but with enough lapses of ensemble to have me imagining how a Toscanini would have turned the air blue. The chorus looked pretty in pink (only the ladies, of course) and sang forcefully even when limited stage space reduced them to rather wooden postures.

An overall success, I would say. I hope the company can return to Poland with the hard-currency equivalent of a barrel full of Zloties and look forward to welcoming them again.

Copyright © David Wilkins, December 13th 1999


David Wilkins' review is based on the performance of La Traviata by the State Opera of Wroclaw given at the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, UK on December 8th 1999.


DAVID WILKINS was born in Coventry and studied at Lancaster and Exeter Universities. He has taught in the UK and in Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal. He has been a conductor of choirs and director of musical productions, is the author of a young person's biography of Leonard Bernstein, has been a regular reviewer for the BBC Music Magazine and other publications over a number of years and, as a freelance writer, currently reviews for the Brighton Argus and writes programme notes for the CBSO amongst others. The ongoing project dearest to his heart is to explain (first to himself and, with any luck, to others later!) something about the nature of interpretation and quite how we might recognise and value whatever makes for the difference between the good and the truly great in musical performance.

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