La Traviata at La Scala
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Angela Gheorghiu, Ramon Vargas, and Roberto Frontali star in this 2007 La Scala production of the Verdi opera conducted by Lorin Maazel.
This 2007 production of Verdis La Traviata from Milans La Scala, with world-class singers and Lorin Maazel on the podium belongs among the best of the many fine DVD versions available. Its prime draw is soprano Angela Gheorghiu, whose 1994 Covent Garden assumption of the role of Violetta catapulted her to stardom. She doesnt quite match the emotional power and vocal beauties of that performance but Gheorghiu does give us an intensely drawn portrait of the role and her voice remains in fine shape. Her acting has always been extraordinary and at La Scala she fully encompasses the doomed heroine; the last Act deeply touching. Her Alfredo Germont is Ramon Vargas, whose beautiful tenor voice and sensitive singing please the ear with sweet tones and individual phrasing that bring Verdis lines to life. Roberto Frontali as Alfredos father, the elder Germont, exhibits an imposing baritone voice, shading it beautifully in the scene where he convinces Violetta to give up his son. Frontali also shows commanding stage presence in the scene where he upbraids Alfredo for his ungentlemanly behavior. Supporting roles are well taken and the La Scala orchestras contributions are positive, with some fine wind solos. Maazel paces the opera well and conjures beautifully shaped Preludes to Acts One and Three, which embody some of Verdis loveliest string music. The staging is traditional in Liliana Cavanis production, originally mounted in 1990 but still looking fine, albeit with some bits of superfluous stage business for the principles to occupy the eye and distract the ear. Dante Ferrettis lavish set designs are fitting, although one can question the presence of a bed and a billiard table in the drawing room of Violettas country house. Gabriella Pescuccis costumes are suitable, but some of the military officers in the banquet scenes appear to be clad in doormans uniforms. Paola Longobardos video direction is excellent: No extraneous camera movements to draw attention away from the stage and close-ups of the singers are usually head-and-shoulders shots well framed with ample space to keep the singers in context. Cuts within an aria are excellently timed as well, on the beat or at a point of mood change. Despite heavy competition from Gheorghius Covent Garden DVD, Renee Flemings San Francisco Traviata, and the often weirdly modernistic Salzburg production with Netrebko and Villazon, this fine La Scala DVD is a serious contender. --Dan Davis
La Traviata is an all-regions disc in 16:9 ratio. Sound options include PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1 Surround. Sung in Italian, subtitles include English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
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I subsequently purchased the Glyndebourne production. Venera Gimadieva, as Violetta, both looks the role and sings it beautifully. Michael Fabiano’s looks were not as distracting as Vargas’. I liked Vargas’s singing a bit better, but wouldn’t consider the difference major. The problem with the Glyndebourne production is that it is “updated” to what appears to be the 21st Century, something that makes no sense to me for a plot that is very grounded in 19th Century moral prejudices.
I have compared the two further, in considerably more detail, in my review of the Glyndebourne production.
Both are excellent productions, but neither is perfect, or at least not exactly what I would like to see. If there were an option for 4 ½ stars, I would go with that for both. Given that non-option, it will be four.
This new DVD uses sets that were new in 1990 although I don't think anyone could lodge a complaint in this area: they are opulent, plush and quite gorgeous. The conservative opera goer will have no complaint here. If memory serves me correctly this is the same production that featured Tiziana Fabriccini, an interpretation that was very controversial, Roberto Alagna and Paolo Coni and conducted by Muti. It should be re-released by whoever has the licensing rights.
Gheorghiu matches all the excellences of her earlier performance. She always looks stunning, sings beautifully and is an accomplished actress. I can't think of any other singer who has this role in her repertoire could match this diva. Yes, it's true that she doesn't take the optional high D at the end of the first act aria, but that's what it is: an option. Her performance is nuanced and touching. I have heard some of Fleming's performance but I find her superficial and dramatically utterly uninvolved. (A downside to the LOs Angeles DVD is Bruson who in his prime was a baritone to be reckoned with; here, at 70 (!) his tone is partched and is afflicted with a wobble which is very distressing.)
Vargas is a great improvement over Lopardo who is somewhat wooden and appears uncomfortable. The former would never be accused of being a great actor but his instincts are always right and while not being "handsome" he has a cherubic sweetness that is very engaging. He has clearly thought out the requirements of the music and brings a great deal of imagination. A pity that the second verse of O mio rimorso was cut as it spoils the musical balance that Verdi was aiming for. (Gheorghiu was also denied her second verse in the Addio del passato.)
Frontali is a vast improvement over Nucci who by rights should be able to shine in this role; the latter became a "Verdi baritone" by default. His milieu is clearly in the Donizetti/Bellini/Rossini operas. the voice is slender, but well focused, but I prefer Fontali's bigger more rugged sound. Of course he has no competition--at least none that I know of on the horizon.
Initially I had my doubts about Maazel. In the 70's (I am hazarding a guess)he recorded Traviata with Lorengar, Aragall and DFD. It was a near complete text if I recall, but Decca management doubtless came down with the mandate to get it on two LP discs. As a result the tempi were brutal in many cases and even though the set did garner some good reviews I have no doubt that it was due to Lorengar. Here Maazel seems much more relaxed and at one with the score. In short one of the best performances of Traviata that I have heard.
For those who want or require a regie Traviata stay away. There is no Konzept here. I would dearly love to see the Venice performance (again Maazel I believe) and even though what I have seen of Villazon/Netrebko is more than offputting (more due to Rizzi who seems to be this generation's Molinari-Pradelli). The cover on the Bel Aire DVD is a Maryln Monroe 'manque"--not the association I make with Traviata. OTOH if a conventionally staged, directed production of this opera is what you want I can only recommend this new set.
This is a stage production, with generally excellent sets (apart from a misplaced pool table in the country villa). Although I only saw it once when empty, I'd say that La Scala doesn't have the scale and technology to compare with the Metropolitan Opera or the Kennedy Center. Within those limitations, the set for the banquet scene was rather beautiful and worked well.
Vargas sang beautifully, and communicated sincerity and depth of feeling, but I find his acting somewhat limited. He has room to develop.
A more serious dramatic deficiency was the performance of Roberto Frontali as Alfredo's father. He has a lovely sound, but his performance was rather wooden. At one point in a scene with Violetta he dropped his hands in a casual and rather limp manner that a good director should have corrected. This might be less serious on stage, but seen from a good camera angle, it loosened some of the dramatic tension that should remain tight in those scenes. Because the libretto doesn't do enough to fully support the drama of these critical scenes, the actor and the director need to do more. From the elder Germont, I'd like to see more moral ambivalence, and a clearer expression of passion for the family's reputation - and enough of an edge to provide a contrast with his later change of heart. Frontali's Germont was too bloodless - a blank canvas with musical accompaniment.
The strong points of this production make it a valuable addition to the collection of anyone who appreciates opera.