This production of La Traviata from Busseto made me want to visit its Teatro Verdi because it is everything that an opera house should be. It seems to be about the size of your local village scout hut and, in fact, seats only 350 people, giving a wonderful intimacy to the production. The set consists of just some steps, which serve for each of the four scenes. Everything else is done with a few net drapes, some lighting and a lot of imagination. Presumably, the opportunity to work in such an intimate setting was what attracted two of the biggest names in opera to Busseto, the director Franco Zeffirelli and, as conductor, Plácido Domingo.
More important than these two big names is the young and attractive cast that has been assembled for the production. This was my first acquaintance with Stephania Bonfadelli, who sings Violetta but subsequently I have seen her in Lucia di Lammermoor. These two performances suggest to me that she is one of the first great actress-singers of the 21st century. She gives good mad and she gives good consumptive. Right from the opening scene Bonfadelli is pale, hollow-eyed and doomed. She manages the first act vocal pyrotechnics magnificently and is also impressive in the more introspective music of the later acts. She is partnered by the dashing Scott Piper. It makes a refreshing change to find a young tenor who looks the part and also can sing. The part of Germont Pére is played by the veteran Renato Bruson who appears to be a great favourite with the Busseto audience. His Provencal song in the second act gets so much applause that he barely knows what to do with himself.
Zeffirelli's direction brings out nuances of the libretto that I have never noticed before, even though I have heard this opera many times. Zeffirelli also directed a scaled-down version of Aida for Busseto with Scott Piper as Ramades. Like this Traviata, it is well worth seeking-out.