REVIEW: Opera Brava’s La Traviata at Rodmarton Manor

Full house audience for the fifth visit of Opera Brava to Rodmarton Manor.

A full-house audience for the fifth visit of Opera Brava to Rodmarton Manor - Credit: Thousand Word Media

My friend K (as Woody Allen once said, we’d be even closer if only she’d trust me with the other letters in her name) and I – along with her friend J (do keep up) – are heading to Rodmarton Manor for a night at the opera. Opera Brava. La Traviata

‘You know EVERYONE,’ K says to me, as we chat. 

I think up a modest reply. ‘Well,’ I begin. But she’s shooting off. 

‘Bronek!’ K calls, warmly greeting a distinguished-looking man. She kindly introduces me to her friend – Bronek Pomorski, co-founder of Opera Brava. They talk for a moment by the hallowed portals of this rather lovely Cotswold manor. Then Bronek disappears off to do whatever an opera founder has to do on a busy performance night. 

‘Well, I wouldn’t say I know everyone,’ I begin, charmingly self-effacingly. But I stop as K recognises the person selling programmes – an old neighbour from Sussex. 

‘I’ll point out Mandy to you,’ K says, as we set up our picnic equipment on the grounds in front of the stage. ‘Bronek’s wife’. (Opera Brava co-founder; one of the cast tonight.) 

I desperately glance round the gathering audience – and feel faint with relief on spotting an acquaintance. They’re surprised by the calibre of my Olympic-level waving. 

Opera Brava's La Traviata

Opera Brava's La Traviata - Credit:

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So, let’s fess up here. *Clears throat* I’ve never been to an opera before. In my entire life. I don’t mention this to K when she suggests we go along. (She’s an utter delight, btw. The problem for me is she’s also something of an aficionada. What’s more, her dad used to play La Traviata constantly on the gramophone… so she not only has knowledge; she has bona fide memories.) 

(My own credentials stretch to watching A Room With A View and much enjoying the soundtrack.) 

But I’m really excited. And I’m hooked from the off. I’m not sure what it is, exactly. The heartrending opening notes of the musicians (directed and conducted by Robert Bottriell). (The delicate beauty of those first notes tells you this isn’t going to go well.) The glamour of the gathering (a party thrown by courtesan, Violetta, whose health has seemingly recovered after a dangerous worsening of tuberculosis). And then the magic – the sheer enchantment – of human voices doing things you never hear them doing in pretty much any other context. Each time Natasha Day begins to sing as Violetta, I am transfixed. 

I can’t critique – I’ve made that clear. All I can say is this: 

The story is, in its way, a great European novel set to music, complete with the volte-face hypocrisy society is wont to adopt. And that hypocrisy is played out against a background of apposite contrasts: riotous parties; tender intimacy. Wealth of material goods; poverty of health. The sincerity of love – with all the sacrifices that can demand – against the ugly pressure of outside forces. Happiness; tragedy (and, in the ultimate cruel move, a spot of rain to emphasise that I’d forgotten to pack a mac). 

In all truth, the strange, other-wordliness of it all (for me) might have been daunting in any other setting; but the intimacy of Opera Brava’s Rodmarton outdoor stage – ironically – mitigated any feeling of ‘outsider’. 

And the heights to which it lifted me were unlike most others. I (forgive my naivety of expression) fell hook, line and sinker for the mingled, harmonious voices of duets and crowd scenes: particularly the moment when Violetta’s lover Alfredo (Dominic Walsh) and his father (Håkan Vramsmo) confront each other’s truths. 

Here’s a story of success against the odds; of dreaming gigantically; of working together to achieve the impossible. 

No, not La Traviata’s tragedy. Obviously. 

But Opera Brava. Started more than 30 years ago, ‘from a tiny back bedroom with an old computer’; delighting audiences with superb quality performances; attracting artists of such strength and ability; surviving the TB of our age – Covid. 

Bravo, Opera Brava. What a wonderful thing you do. 

I’m not going to forget my night for a very long time. Perhaps not until my memories are overwhelmed by other operas I now intend to see. And, probably, not even then.