Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La traviata - opera in three acts
(1853, rev. 1854)
ERATO Blu-ray 2564 616647 [145.00]
Much loved, even venerated by opera lovers La Traviata
(The fallen woman) is probably Verdi’s most popular opera although
initially it was one of his few failures. The three act opera is set
to Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto and based on the play La
Dame aux camélias adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas jr.
Verdi’s moving score contains all the elements necessary for operatic
prominence. Set amid grand Parisian party scenes the scenario follows
the most unsuitable and ill-fated liaison between the suave nobleman
Alfredo Germont who is infatuated with the beautiful heroine Violetta
Valéry, a courtesan dying from consumption. The only other substantial
singing role is Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont.
Given the eternal popularity of Verdi’s score it is not surprising
that many directors want to ‘freshen up’ the proceedings.
In 2014 I had the misfortune to attend a dire production by the Staatsoper
im Schiller Theater at Berlin. Director Peter Mussbach’s bewildering
set required the audience to strain their eyes and patience watching
the opera through hessian sacking which covered the whole of the front
of the stage (the proscenium arch) including the orchestra pit across
which video images, mainly lines, were occasionally shot.
There are several Blu-ray releases of La traviata in the catalogue.
Probably the most distinguished is a Liliana Cavani production starring
Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta live from La Scala in 2007 conducted by
Lorin Maazel on Arthaus
Musik. In 1994 it was the role of Violetta that propelled the Romanian
soprano Gheorghiu to international stardom. The BBC cleared the evening
schedules to broadcast La traviata live from Covent Garden
conducted by Sir Georg Solti (Decca).
Here on Erato Blu-ray German soprano Diana Damrau excels in a committed
performance as Violetta in a new production for Opéra national de Paris
directed by French filmmaker Benoît Jacquot. It was filmed in June 2014
at the Opéra Bastille, Paris. In fact Damrau only started singing Violetta
in 2013 with Willy Decker’s rejuvenated production at the Metropolitan
Opera, New York.
Jacquot sets La traviata firmly in mid-19th century Paris using
rather spare sets compared to Gheorghiu’s 2007 production that
utilises the whole Met stage packed with period scenery. Jacquot’s
vision may leave considerable areas of the large Opéra Bastille stage
unused but with the décor design by Sylvain Chauvelot and costumes by
Christian Gasc it certainly doesn’t lack impact. Striking and
no doubt satisfying to traditionalists are the elegant period-costumes.
Set in Violetta’s Paris salon act 1 focuses on the large canopy
bed which possesses a headboard decorated by a copy of Édouard Manet’s
painting ‘Olympia’ of a reclining nude and black maid. Also
present across the stage is a table with candelabra, a tête-à-tête sofa
and dressing table. Behind the principals are the chorus, both men and
women looking like undertakers as they gather in the gloom wearing black
morning suits and ‘stove pipe’ top hats. They deserve resilience
prizes having to stand for so long. Mirroring Manet’s ‘Olympia’
Violetta is attended by a black maid Annina played by Cornelia Oncioiu
who is ‘blacked-up’ for the part. It seems incredible that
we are still doing this today in the theatre.
The first scene of Act 2, set in the grounds of a country house outside
Paris, centres around a wide girthed tree with a small bench nearby.
In the second scene of Act 2 the party at Flora Bervoix’s mansion
focuses on a magnificent period staircase and terrace filled with the
chorus dressed in black trousers and skirts, matador hats and masks.
Serving as a divertimento a gender-bending dance scene takes
place at the bottom of the stairs with eight men, some with beards,
dressed as female Flamenco dancers in striking gold and orange dresses
and five women wearing men’s red and gold toreador outfits. Three
women wearing masks of bulls' heads act out a rather tentative
bull-fight with a black bull symbolically killed with red ribbons acting
as spears. Following this, Alfredo and two friends gamble at a card
table with a croupier decked out in a black and silver toreador’s
outfit. Act 3 is set exclusively in Violetta’s bedroom centring
on her small and practical sick-bed positioned at the side of the large
Robed throughout in beautiful gowns Damrau excelled in the role of Violetta
Valéry. After a slightly uneven start the soprano soon got into her
stride at one with this complex opera character. Pondering whether Alfredo
is the one for her in ‘E' strano!... Ah, fors'e
lui’ Damrau sings with a fluid, creamy tone and with her
exciting coloratura makes light work of her sparkling cabaletta ‘Sempre
libera’. Finest of all, the courtesan’s departure from
life ‘Addio del passato’ is a highly affecting
conclusion to a wonderful opera. Immaculately dressed Francesco Demuro
makes a debonair Alfredo with a poised and extremely elegant voice to
match. Joyous about his life with Violetta, in De' miei bollenti
spiriti the Sardinia tenor displays a smooth voice with a noticeable
if unobtrusive vibrato. Demuro lacks a degree of timbral variation and
there is some slight unease when acting. With excellent stage presence
and impeccably attired, Ludovic Tézier shines as Germont the father
anguished about his son’s relationship with a society courtesan.
The French baritone fares admirably in his air Pura siccome un angelo
and later in Di Provenza il mar demonstrating his steady and
reliable voice. Ideally Tézier could have brought a touch more humanity
to the role. Satisfying is Francesco Ivan Ciampa’s conducting
of the Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris setting judicious
tempi and dynamics that complement the stage action. Well drilled by
chorus master Aleesandro di Stefano the Chœur de l’Opéra
national de Paris deserves plaudits - they sing with unity and suitable
Generally the video direction is excellent with experienced Benoît Jacquot
employing his cameras actively and never admitting monotony or allowing
the viewer to become fatigued. A single cause of irritation with Jacquot’s
direction is the contrived camera view of the stage over the shoulder
of a woman audience member sat in a box and seen at crucial points such
as at the beginning and ends of the acts. Curiously, although audience
applause could be heard throughout there are no camera shots of the
audience which made me wonder if it was actually filmed live or at dress
rehearsals; the accompanying notes don’t elucidate. No problems
at all with the vividly clear sound quality — as excellent as
I have come to expect from this source. The booklet contains a full
cast and production listing together with a short synopsis but no track-details.
These can however be obtained as an on-screen option.
My marginal preference is for Liliana Cavani’s traditional 2007
production. It features Angela Gheorghiu’s almost unrivalled performance.
Nevertheless I can’t imagine too many people being disappointed
by Jacquot’s new production but it’s the excellent performances
from Damrau and her principals, chorus and orchestra that make this
Erato release so desirable.
Performance & Disk details
Diana Damrau - Violetta; Francesco Demuro - Alfredo; Ludovic Tézier - Germont;
Anna Pennisi - Flora; Cornelia Oncioiu - Annina; Gabriele Mangione -
Gastone; Fabio Previati - Barone Douphol; Igor Gnidii - Marchese d’Obigny;
Nicolas Testé - Dottor Grenvil)
Chœur de l’Opéra national de Paris,
Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris/Francesco Ivan Ciampa
rec. June 2014. A production of the Opéra national de Paris, Opéra Bastille,
Video Direction: Louise Narboni, Benoît Jacquot
Director: Benoît Jacquot
Set design: Sylvain Chauvelot
Costumes: Christian Gasc
Lighting design: Andre Diot
Choreography: Philippe Giraudeau
Disc format 1 x BD50
Sound format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch 48kHz; LPCM 2.0ch 48kHz/16 bit
Video format: 1080i High Definition 16.9
Blu-ray disc designed for worldwide playback
Sung in Italian with on screen subtitles