Despite a distinctly wooden performance, it is the chair (and the approach it represents) that is the star of La traviata directed by Peter Konwitschny.
At a time when ENO is under scrutiny for its financial management, this staging of Verdi’s opera about a tragic Parisian courtesan is a timely advert for minimalism. As far as this set goes, the chair only shares the stage with a stack of books in Act 2. The performers are free to breath in this uncluttered landscape — Elizabeth Zharoff is arresting as she inhabits Violetta’s descent from romantic euphoria into deep, punishing turmoil. The audience may not see what she does in Ben Johnson’s Alfredo but they certainly hear it in his I saw a vision ethereal — and Anthony Michaels-Moore is in simply magisterial form as Germont.
So why pick the chair as the star turn? What Konwitschny achieves and proves in this rendering is that you can captivate an audience without the platinum price tag. While some come to the Coliseum for the visual spectacle, lavish productions so often result in at least partial obfuscation of powerful performances — and could well be the ruin of this opera company if left unchecked.
Bravo to the chair. Bravo to Konwitschny. Bravo to this production for creating an environment for such lucid, direct performances.