Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) La Traviata, opera in 3 Acts (1853)
Olga Peretyatko, Violetta: Atalla Ayan, Alfredo: Simone Piazzola, Germont: Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Gastone: Tom Fox, Baron Douphol: Christina Daletska, Flora: Konstantin Wolff, Marchese d'Obigny: Walter Fink, Dottore Grenvil: Deniz Uzun, Annina: Stefan Geyer, Commissioner: Hermann Oswald, Giuseppe
Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble & Chor/Pablo Heras-Casado
rec. Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Germany, 2015
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; Regions ABC Subtitles in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese: Booklet English, German, French
Reviewed in surround. C MAJOR 733804 Blu-ray [139:00]
It is a well established rule in education, and it can be applied to reviewing, that you start by saying what you are going to say, then say it. So: I loved this performance and I found all aspects of it thrilling and convincing. It ranks high amongst the best Traviatas I have seen, musically and scenically. But it had a fight on its hands.
The booklet note, which I read after watching the opera and after working out for myself what was going on, is entitled La Traviata - a circus of delirium. Since the box cover shows Violetta and Alfredo apparently in a circus arena surrounded by strangely attired performers, this note might be needed to explain the konzept, or perhaps I should say concepto, of director and singer Rolando Villazón. This age of regietheater is responsible for much that is strange, irritating and off-putting in the opera world. We see Gluck, for example, performed by great baroque singers and equally prestigious baroque instrumental groups, whilst on stage men and women strut their stuff dressed in modern military fatigues and carrying AK47s. It causes what we academics call cognitive dissonance, the clash of expectations against actuality. A trench coat is standard dress for so much Verdi and Wagner - and the chorus might appear as rats to help us understand not the music, but the director's konzept. I could go on and my friends say I often do. My heart sank when this performance opened, in silence, with Violetta in front of the curtain crawling across the stage towards some sort of children's toy. At least she isn't carrying an AK47 I thought, and no trench coat either.
The above mentioned booklet note explains that this is all Violetta's dying delirium during which the happy events still glow with love and sensuality, but the darker moments and characters take on a nightmarish quality. None of it is real, even at the end her mind is filled with disturbing and sinister images. It reminds one of the effects of opiate drugs given to people at the end of their lives to ease the pain. With her death all stage movement ceases because it was sustained only by her delirium. I once heard a couple of ladies at Bayreuth discussing a rather odd performance of Das Rheingold. "It was so consequent," they said admiringly. It may not have been exactly what Wagner expected but it made sense of the events. This Traviata is definitely consequent and since the singing, playing and staging are so good to hear and look at, it is a winner in my book. Not mentioned in the booklet is the fact that the Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble play on period instruments, the period in this case being the 1850s. The presence of a flugelhorn was audible and the inner detailing by woodwind and lower strings was impressive. In place of the silky sheen provided by most Traviata orchestras we had a welcome grittiness to balance the beauty. This is decidedly not a happy tale and Heras-Casado makes that clear by emphasizing the dark orchestral colours and the angular rhythms as well. It all shows how imaginative Verdi was in depicting this story.
The Violetta of Olga Peretyatko is very beautifully sung and she herself is beautiful enough to make Alfredo's devotion only too believable, not to mention her success as a courtesan. Likewise Atalla Ayan as Alfredo sings with passion and power when required. He looks believably distraught as events beyond his control destroy his young lover. Germont is depicted as a Commendatore figure, a Stone Guest, come to drag not just Alfredo, but also Violetta to their doom. This may not be what Verdi expected but it is a logical characterisation in the delirious mind of Violetta. Simone Piazolla sings Germont magnificently and deserves the audience applause he receives. The other key characters, with one notable exception, are a discomforting mixture of commedia dell'arte and cabaret. The exception is the carer/nurse Annina who looks in her simple white dress like a normal nurse, perhaps the only person who Violetta can still recognise clearly. Above all this superb singing hangs Violetta's alter ego, a mime role who swings on a trapeze and occasionally takes over the action. Again, consequent! All the solo singers are excellent as are the chorus and the dancers and acrobats who populate Violetta's circus of delirium.
Both audio and video recordings are top class and reproduce with considerable impact. It was not hard to sit through an effectively uninterrupted performance. I wish there had been interviews with the director and key singers. I would love to know what they thought. Talking of thoughts about all this, I see that reviews have been decidedly mixed. Many have decried the production and even the singing. I think this is a very fine Traviata which everyone should buy to join the two other essential performances, Gheorghiu and Maazel at La Scala on Arthaus Blu-ray video and Cotrubas and Kleiber with the Bayerisches Staatsorchester on DG SACD/CD.