Millennium Centre, Cardiff
David McVicar's production, originally for Scottish Opera, was first seen at Welsh National Opera in 2009, when the music simply didn't show his rigorously incisive approach. This revival, under conductor Julia Jones, changed all that: her attention to the emotional detail of Verdi's score achieved a searing intensity.
There was already an extra edge to the performance with the announcement that tenor Leonardo Capalbo was a last-minute, unrehearsed replacement in the role of Alfredo. Yet the Italian-American threw himself into it with an amazing, instinctive passion. For once, it was perfectly possible to believe in the all-consuming nature of Alfredo and Violetta's love, with Joyce El-Khoury also making a strong company debut. Every clinch felt if their lives depended on it.
Evoking Tissot and 1880s Paris, Tanya McCallin's set managed to be both sumptuous and understated. It at first appears monochrome until the eye adjusts to the beautiful gradations of dark tone: charcoal, midnight blue, and Violetta's first dress the deepest possible purple velvet. It is to Jones's huge credit that she brings comparable tonal colouring to the WNO orchestra's playing; making things sound so fresh and immediate in such a familiar opera shows a remarkable musical perception. Even the Gypsy music, where McVicar goes for the frisson factor by adding a transgender performer to the dance troupe, carried the brittle brilliance of the world the courtesan Violetta had wanted so desperately to escape.
Jason Howard's Germont père was finely drawn, joining El-Khoury and Capalbo, together with Siân Meinir's Annina and Martin Lloyd's Dr Grevill, to realise a moving death-scene quintet, underlining Verdi's extraordinary ability to shape a musical drama – and McVicar's not to meddle with it.
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