EVEN before the curtain goes up on WNO’s revival of David McVicar’s production of La Traviata, there is no ambiguity about where it’s going, opening as it does with a dark, stark stage, draped in black, and in the background the signs of a life consigned to dust sheets and a shroud.

Director David McVicar and designer Tanya McCallin play it straight all the way, with no concessions to modernity, no irony, and opting for a visually striking monochrome set, punctuated by vivid flashes of colour in Act 1 that have become more muted tones as Violetta finds love but fights a losing battle against death.

Champagne and candlelight conjure a world of hedonistic pleasure as the consumptive Violetta celebrates her apparent recovery only to be felled anew - this time by love - as Alfredo Germont destroys all her defences.

With La Traviata almost falling at the first fence in 1853, when Verdi himself declared it a ‘fiasco’, largely due to an inappropriately cast Violetta, it’s vital to have a convincing heroine and Canadian soprano, Joyce El-Khoury, in her European début, delivers. Although there were moments when her voice lacked a measure of warmth, she made stunning work of her encounter with Germont, forcing the suspension of disbelief and bringing a tear to the eye. On the opening night at Wales Millennium Centre, Alfredo was sung by Italian-American tenor Leonardo Capalbo, a last-minute replacement for an indisposed Carlos Osuna,who quickly settled into a moving, beautifully acted and beautifully sung performance. A slight coolness in El-Khoury’s performance did, though, mean that occasionally the relationship between Violetta and Alfredo seemed just a little unbalanced.

La Traviata is at Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday, February 18, Wednesday, February 9 and Friday, March 2. To book, go to wmc.org.uk or call the box office on 029 2063 6464 The production can also be seen at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday, March 6 and Friday, March 9. To book, call 0844 338 5000 or go to birminghamhippodrome.co.uk