Ever since I was 11 I have loved La Traviata. It was my first complete opera, and still is one of my favourites ever as well as tying with Don Carlo as my favourite Verdi opera. This production is not up there with my favourite Traviatas however, like the Zeffirelli film, the Anna Moffo production and the 1981, 1992 and 1994 performances. It is not my least favourite however, the 2012 Met production with Dessay, Polenzani and Hvorostovsky and the 2004 performance with Ciofi, Sacca and Hvorostovsky are. If I were to rank it somewhere I'd say towards the bottom end, perhaps third from bottom. Though that is not to say it is bad, because it isn't, just not as good as I'd hoped.
I'll get the good things out the way. The music is gorgeous, and performed with elegant phrasing by the orchestra, especially by the beautifully dense strings and dancing woodwind, the Prelude to Act 1, Sempre Libera and Addio Del Passato are standouts. The conducting is also alive to nuances and allows the Brindisi and Matador's Chorus to rouse. The chorus sing with a lovely sound, are quite dynamic and have good tuning. I would have liked them to be more animated though.
Of the cast, three stood out. Alessandra Scarabelli is a characterful Annina, with a bubbly personality and good diction. Of the four Traviatas I've seen in the past two weeks(2007, 1975, 2004 and 2011) I found Charles Castronovo to be the most convincing Alfredo. He doesn't quite make it on the high C of his act 2 aria cabaletta(then again neither did Placido Domingo on the Kleiber recording, which I love), but his singing is overall stylish and pleasantly lyrical, he has affecting chemistry with Dessay and while not thrilling as such he is not my definition of a stolid actor either.
The best thing though is Dessay's Violetta. In much better voice than in the Met production, and in a much more rounded and convincing interpretation, Dessay is wonderful in the role. Her voice is not quite as good as it was when she was singing Olympia and Orphelie with high Fs and Gs, but it is much less shrill and more firmly agile than at the Met. Technically she is mostly spot-on with clean runs in Sempre Libera. And here she is dramatically very thoughtful and moving, at the Met I didn't find her vulnerable enough, here she is. Addio Del Passato really does affect.
However there are some let downs. The sets are not as ugly or as stark as the 2012 or 2004 performances, but sometimes they do feel rather sparse. More opulence and elegance was needed I feel. The costumes are pretty much the same, with most of the cast dressed in what looked like street clothes, though Dessay did look striking in hers. The staging was rather indifferent to me, it is well done with Violetta and Alfredo and them individually, but Violetta and Germont in Act 2 lacked poignancy and intensity and the choruses were let down by some static acting and choreography that would have belonged elsewhere.
In regard to the rest of the supporting cast, the likes of Flora, Douphol and Grenvil sing solidly but they don't ever distinguish themselves. But of the cast the weak link was Ludovic Tezier's Germont, after seeing and really liking his Enrico(Lucia Di Lammermoor) and Marcello(La Boheme) I was disappointed. I don't mind actually as much that he looked too young for the role, actually looking closer to a brother rather than a father figure(make-up could've helped things I suppose) than his singing and acting. Vocally, he sounds rather dry here, and instead of the stern and sympathetic quality you'd expect from Germont you see Tezier strangely uninvolved with stiff posture, dead eyes and a lack of emotion in general.
All in all, not bad, Dessay, the orchestral playing, conducting, Scarabelli and Castranovo make it watchable, but the production values, staging, the undistinguished secondary role performances and a disappointing Tezier unfortunately makes the performance not as moving as one would want. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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