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I've just seen a brilliant performance of La Traviata by the Ukrainian National Opera of Odessa, who are touring Britain at the moment, brought by Ellen Kent Ballet and Opera International. I approached it with caution, because the Eastern European Chisinau ballet this tireless promoter brings to Britain is not very good, though certainly they deserve an audience. But this company was in an entirely different class, and I was stunned by the whole performance. All the singers were first-rate, especially Larysa Zuenko as Violetta, who could not only sing superbly, but also looked reasonably right and knew how to use the stage, and how to move. Alfredo was Ruslan Zinevych, who acted with passion, had a very Italianate tenor voice, and whose only "fault" was that he is extremely short - though not fat or ugly! Their interaction was most moving (luckily she was little, too). Stanislav Trifanau, as Germont, had a fine presence and a rather more Russian sound. Lots of tears from the audience, and later a tumultuous reception.

The orchestra under Vasyl Vasylenko was exemplary, with some ravishing strings playing.

The production was very traditional, with beautiful costumes and conventional but pretty sets, which came as a welcome relief after pretentious productions I have seen. I would recommend it to anyone, at any rate with this cast.

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This review highlights one of the often missed joys of Verdi—the orchestral writing. He was a great composer, of course, but also a quintessential man of the theater. While he wrote a lot of “oompha band” type accompaniment, Verdi also underlined some of the important moments in his dramas with ravishing sounds from the pit. This includes some of the string writing in “Traviata”, especially, as I recall, during the second act when Violetta is making her agonizing decision.

A few years ago we attended a performance of “La Traviata” done by the Graduate School of Music of the University of Michigan. Afterwards I sought out the concertmaster to congratulate her on the beautiful playing by the strings of this very difficult music.

It is also great to hear of yet another talented young soprano from Eastern Europe. Violetta is one of the most problematic parts to cast, since it seems to require a very different type of singer for each of its three acts. It has the stratospheric notes and florid technique of a true coloratura (especially if she takes all the interpolated high notes) the legato beauty and effortless long lines of a lyric soprano and the power and ability to cut through the massed forces of orchestra and chorus of a spinto soprano.

This production sounds like one to see if it pulls into town. For those members of this board who are not opera goers, an inexpensive and well done “La Traviata” is a great place to start.

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