“La Traviata”, More than Musical, Hong Kong, 14-17 December

Lei Xu as Violetta in Act I Lei Xu as Violetta in Act I

Rather than mounting a second production, Hong Kong’s newest opera company, “More than Musical”, decided to reprise La Traviata, first shown here in June. This was probably a wise decision, artistically and logistically; after all, due to the deliberately small size of the spaces that the company uses for intimacy, only a few hundred people—fewer in total than fit in even one of Hong Kong’s smaller traditional venues—saw it last time. The performances themselves benefited from what was in effect a longer run of six, rather than just three, outings.

Soprano Lei Xu continues to impress.

Soprano Lei Xu continues to impress as Violetta, in voice and dramatic interpretation, so much so that it is hard to evaluate the company’s concept of streamlined (“abridged”) productions in non-traditional spaces: More than Musical could have staged this in paper bag and it hardly would have mattered.

Lei Xu and Zhou Zhengzhong, Act II
Lei Xu and Zhou Zhengzhong, Act II

A welcome addition to the cast was Chinese baritone Zhou Zhengzhong as the paterfamilias Giorgio Germont. Zhou, while not a stranger to Hong Kong stages—he had sung Valentin in a 2014 Opera Hong Kong production of Faust, a role he had also sung at Covent Garden, standing in for Dmitri Hvorostovsky in 2011—was also something of a catch for the young company. Rounding out the trio of leads, Ji-Min Park reprised a really rather aggressive Alfredo.

This production cuts some smaller parts and reassigns some of the lines, a number of which ended up with local soprano Etta Fung who doubled up the roles of Violetta’s maid (personal assistant in this modernized production) Anina and demi-mondaine Flora Bervoix. Fung merits mention not just, again, for the voice but also for her distinct portrayals of the two characters. In these she was helped by good costumes, but nevertheless, if the program has not let on that the that lascivious Flora and trim, professional Anina were performed by the same person, one might never have known.

 

Nina Virtarnaya (violin) and Lei Xu, Act III
Nina Virtarnaya (violin) and Lei Xu, Act III

The production, with piano and violin accompaniment, remains interesting and a theatrical as much as a musical experience. The role of the violinist (Nina Vitarnaya) as Violetta’s specter seems to have been augmented and made even more gothic since the last outing.

More than Musical is making a bet that streamlined adaptations in non-traditional spaces and environments will appeal to an opera-shy millennial audience. We’ll have to wait and see about that. But I couldn’t help wondering what this thoughtful production would look like—and the very respectable cast would sound like—in one of the more traditional venues the company has eschewed.


Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.