REVIEW: La Traviata was an outdoor gamble worth taking for Nevill Holt

Forced to vacate their prized opera house by the pandemic, Nevill Holt gambled on staging its first outdoor performances. And what a gamble!

Nevill Holt Opera is staging performances outdoors
Nevill Holt Opera is staging performances outdoors

It is so rewarding when that gamble pays off, as it did for their season opener - a remarkable performance of La Traviata.

Using an 18-metre dome stage, 450 patrons enjoyed a rewarding first night performance with stunning Leicestershire sunshine and a view overlooking some of the county’s unspoilt precious agricultural landscape. Hopefully, the 600 on afternoons to come will enjoy it too.

Manchester Camerata, housed within the dome stage, make their Nevill Holt debut, a very encouraging one, too. Their playing was crisp, responding to Nicholas Chalmers’s demands for a strong tempo. Well led by Caroline Pether, and supported by brilliant solo clarinettist, Fiona Cross, they will be welcomed back in future years.

Confident brass playing and consistently strong wind playing deserve a special mention too

In the fresh air, a purpose-built grassy mound in front of the grandstand supports a large wooden fountain, the focus of attention throughout. Making an impact from the beginning of Act 1, Susana Gaspar (Violetta) hosts the party of the bourgeoisie in Paris; the bursts from the fountain adding to the festivities.

She delights in this, one of her most prominent roles; her soprano voice has strengthened since her role as Gilda in her début with 2016 Nevill Holt in Verdi’s Rigoletto. She dominates the grassy mound wherever she is and in whatever mood or state of health. Hers was an intimate performance at times, an extravagant performance at others, not least when in her partying mood.

Her fluctuating relationship with Alfredo Germont (Luis Gomes) in the prevailing mood swings is most appealing; both Caspar and Germont excel in their efforts portray the changing behaviours Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto requires - Alfredo’s irritation, Violetta’s succumbing to family pressures and illness.

High emotions run through much of Act 2 as her love for Alfredo becomes a family irritation. This introduces Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont (baritone, Michel de Souza) in his role as the domineering, interfering, potential father-in law. He portrays this to extremes and sings with the controlling authority expected. His depth of voice and solid timbre is a credit to him. Three soloists at the top of their game on this first night emerging talents all.

Soon after the interval, the ‘card game’ gets under way with gypsies and young matadors from Madrid involved in Alfredo’s gamble with the Barone Douphol (Robert Garland) for Violetta’s hand. The event ends with the Baron dramatically striking Alfredo; on this occasion the design and delivery of this ‘card game’ fits comfortably into the surroundings, with the matadors using the space effectively yet managing to deliver a solid chorus support to the drama on and around the fountain. This chorus would probably benefit from a couple more rehearsals.

Violetta’s demise on the fountain, now transformed into the death bed, is as dramatic as needed, de Souza portraying his remorse and Gomes delivering a beautiful final duet with Gaspar, sublime singing.

Conductor, Nicholas Chalmers, maintained the strong tempo, bringing a delightful, often nuanced, performance to a close with the sun continuing to shine on those people fortunate to enjoy the magnificent surroundings. A hit for Nevill Holt director, Jamie Manton and the team and well deserved, It pays to be brave, sometimes.