Archive for March, 2010

Eugene Onegin: New York vs. Baden-Baden

March 28, 2010

I recently came across a sly and contemptuous text on Regie Theater and its origin. Coincidentally I read it at the time I was watching two different productions of Eugene Onegin, one by the Met and the other one by European Union Opera in Baden-Baden. Two  productions  were staged initially at around the same time, about 10 years ago. The conductors are Russian in both. In the Met it is the globe-trotting Valery Gergiev and the Baden-Baden production is under the baton of Gennady Rozhdestvensky. 

The Met production was first staged in 1997 (Ms. Karita Mattila as Tatiana and Mr. Thomas Hampson as Onegin) and revived in 2007, with the stellar cast: Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Onegin, Renée Fleming as Tatiana and Ramón Vargas as Lenski. None of them is known as a memorable actor, which proves true in this production too. They all sing well—Mr. Hvorostovsky because he could sing anything without any objection from anyone, but, as is not seldom the case, just short of mesmerizing, which is a pity because with his voice it is not fair that we remain not blown away by his singing. With a bit more personal presence he could do miracles. (personal message to Hvorostovsky: practicing some contact sport—kick-boxing comes to mind—may release or break the knot which makes him shy and closed on stage).  Then we may all rejoice in his unrestrained delivery. Just a personal gut impression. It was good to hear that Ms. Fleming did not get in too much trouble with murkiness of the lower tones this time, as she sometimes tends to sound hollow and with a dent when singing from the area between the chest and throat. The letter-writing scene she dramatically overstated from time to time. Tatiana is after all very young and in love, and not on the verge of suicide. Most genuine was Ramón Vargas whose self–lamenting solo was met with a warm applause. Ms. Elena Zaremba as her sister Olga did not evoke a young and cheerful person as she was supposed to. Her voice is too thick, exuding an overly bitter and dark flavour, so her ode to joy sounds like condemnation. Misfit for the character of young Olga.  Her appearance and hairdo could easily be of Olga’s grand granny. Ms. Zaremba’s mature and distinct facial features needed softening with hairstyle, makeup and costume to produce an effect adequate to the character of Olga and not an afternoon version of the Queen of Night. But whoever was in charge of shaping her up for the stage missed that. 

In the Baden-Baden production the singers are not mega stars, but chosen well for their roles. Ms. Orla Boylan as Tatiana may not be best physical match for Mr. Vladimir Gushchak as Onegin. But Ms. Orla Boylan as Tatiana soars and glides effortlessly and with emotional nuance and tremor which may be seen as a flow in her voice but, oh so well, suited for this role. Mr. Gluschak is maybe of limited expressiveness but his natural annoying arrogance comes in handy and balances out well with his correct but otherwise unremarkable singing. Ms. Ineke Vlogtman has natural nobility that serves well in the Larina role. Ms. Anna Burford is Olga dressed in yellow throughout and showing remarkable acting skills,  bringing forth fully the character of Olga. Ms. Katja Boos as Filipyevna couldn’t quite strike the right balance between her own age and the one suitable for the role. Her and Larina’s  costumes, though, may be teaching exhibits for costume students on how to accentuate with style and without imitation.

Whether Valery Gergiev did not have enough time to get the orchestra sound as he wished or not, may never be known. Met’s bonus material shows some of his attempts to explain that the orchestra is not a place for practicing democracy so that every string may exercise his right to be heard; that less is sometimes better; that “easy does it”; and so on, in his own words. Alas, the sound of the prelude of the Met production feels like a two-dimensional plane: up and down, left and right, compared to the sophisticated delicate nuancing under the baton of Gennady Rozhdestvensky, exuding magical elusive and cobweb like flavor of brooding melancholy, that comes to a listener from all directions with different intensity and voluptuousness. You feel the changing of the seasons as the years go by in the slow and uneventful life of a remote Russian village. Throughout the orchestra’s sound there is a mild curly streak of the Asian/Oriental mellow tone we might hear in the shepherd folk tunes of that part of the world. The richness of the orchestra sound, whether in nostalgic melodies or surging into a crescendo of drama, shows superiority and far greater sensibility on the side of Baden-Baden. Sorry Met, I have to get it of my chest.

Monsignor Triquet, as an entertainer who in the homes of then wealthy Russian aristocrats sings for supper, is a delicate visual task. It is a character dressed almost clownishly which was well understood and developed with stylish exaggeration in the Baden-Baden production,

 

whereas the Met produced a Triquet who takes himself seriously, resembling features of  anonymous character face, similar to mannequins or the faces on the packaging for man’s hair colouring. 

The episode with peasants and their folk songs is misunderstood in the Met production. It occupies an excess of time. It is portrayed with almost silly delight. These scenes throw into misbalance the main theme, which is a story of the seducer Onegin and Princess Tatiana, not about folk rites and songs. All of the folks people are dressed in some sort of  rag-bags of the lively colours evoking wet cement and dry mud…Tsk… tsk…tsk.

The episode with folk songs in Baden-Baden does not appear on the stage, which is an apt modification to emphasize the main story. The song is only heard, and it is heard from a considerable distance, which adds wonderfully to the entire spirit of melancholy and loneliness. 

Baden-Baden’s scene is simple small and white with an elaborate but delicate lighting suggesting summer with touches of bright yellow and red. The outdoors countryside is only gently hinted at, by wooden shavings sorted in a curved line along the back edge of the elevated stage tilted towards the audience. Behind and   below which is another invisible plane suggesting distance in a clever way so that the characters who arrive are first invisible, then you see only their heads etc. There is a large swing coming high from the top of the ceiling and a reclining chair with a sun umbrella, as well as two simple chairs for Larina and Filipyevna and an ordinary bucket.

This small picture is all I could find.

 

The overture and other instrumental passages are used on the stage to introduce the characters in their silent exchanges so we learn without a word that Olga is a mischief, that Tatiana is a gloomy dreamer etc.

A bare stage is a tricky place. When Peter Mussbach or Willy Decker uses it, the stage somehow does not feel empty.  My fellow Torontonian, Mr. Robert Carsen, responsible for the Met production, may have had better support of the costume and choreography teams in Venice when he was staging La Traviata, because the space there although on occasions bare did not come across as bare and vast as that which pervades the stage of his Eugene Onegin. The unfortunate effect with this stage is that it involves the whole height of the ceiling and at the bottom it ends in the straight rectangular lines of a box, producing an unpleasant effect as if the entire performance takes place at the bottom of a gigantic empty aquarium. The stage is covered in autumn leaves: wall-to-wall. (hard labour for those backstage workers of the Met spreading and shoving into bags the tons of leaves every Onegin night.) The other ornaments on the scene are four suspiciously authentic looking trunks of white birch trees. If these trunks are real, as I suspect they are, it is an environmental crime to kill these wonderful trees, and let’s make it abundantly clear, a slaughter not worthy of the art in which name it was committed. I suggest that this matter be investigated.

The furniture is boring, midway through any-style or no-style-at-all—a dining table in the safely chosen, vigourless, colour of everything and everyone else on the stage – brown. At least that is how it feels on DVD. It may be that the live impression was different.

Let the picture speak a thousand words…

 

It appears that in the Met production little attention was given to the scene movements either, except when a dancing part was outsourced to the professionals. All the bets are on the lighting, which in return tirelessly projects every imaginable shade of the spectrum on the back wall.

It appears that the Met costume designer couldn’t be bothered with the episode role’s costumes, so he or she probably short-noticed a student, who in return googled here and there and came up with a stitched floral application on the Filipyevna’s apron but did not have time for the apron itself, and then just arbitrarily threw in some brown Scottish tartan instead, which combined with a patterned shirt shows homework done in haste. The costumes came with a staffing of the singers into stereotype babushkas and nanushkas with well- endowed bosoms, large hips and dropped shoulders. In neglecting the costumes of the episode roles Onegin’s costume appears overdone and makes him look like an opulent Ringmaster rather than a dandy aristocrat.  The costume designer in Baden-Baden chose colours following the main emotion associated with the character and scene; the design is gentle to the natural curves of the singers shaping their bodies according to the age, status and the temperament of the role. Clothing each character in apparently simple apparel, reveals on closer inspection meticulous attention to detail that treats the natural figures of the singers with grace and dignity. Of course, they are stylized and simplified from the original time period beyond recognition. Opera need not necessarily teach you a lesson in ethnography or how to cook a fruit preserve.

We may need more than one book to show that Tatiana loves reading, which is so aptly applied in Baden-Baden. 

Special cum laude mention goes to Markus Meyer for the set and costume design, also lighting designer Urlich Schneider, choreographer Denni Sayers, and first and foremost stage director Nicolaus Lehnhoff, may his name stand bold for this superb Baden-Baden production.

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The night of mighty voices at Roy Thomson Hall

March 23, 2010

Saturday March 20, 2010 was an extraordinary evening at the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. We were listening to Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone, and Sondra Radvanovsky, soprano, promoting their Verdi CD at the onset of their North American tour. The two stars, at the zenith of their singing careers, came supported by the young Canadian the Orchestre de la Francophonie and their founding conductor Jean-Phelippe Tremblay. Joining this Russian-Canadian musical force was Mr. Constantine Orbelian, an American conductor, famous for developing Russian-American musical ties since the times preceding the fall of the Iron Curtain. 

The programme included Verdi, Puccini, Dvorak, Mascagni and Tchaikovsky. The chosen fragments, whether solo or duets, required emotional presence and high concentration for the utmost in delivery, so it does not come as a surprise that at the onset there was a sense of nervousness. After all, it is difficult for a singer to jump into the climax of a drama right out of the dressing room, as opposed to developing the role gradually as the piece unfolds,  But as soon as the ice was broken, the audience had an opportunity to enjoy the plush and mighty depth of Mr. Hvorostovsky’s voice, which filled the demanding space of Roy Thomson Hall. Ms. Radvanovsky’s debut on the Toronto scene was a joy and a surprise for the audience. She is a singer with remarkable power in her voice. Her high pitch comes out with noticeable ease and control. It is when she has to sink in lower voice, or rise from low to the high that on occasion the expected richness and depth is not always felt. Therefore, some phrases felt a little chopped, especially in her rendition of Rusalka. In an interview with Opera Chic blog Ms. Radvanovsky mentioned that she is a devoted admirer of Maria Callas. When Ms. Callas was singing we could hear not only the flames of her high voice, but also with equal colour and intensity, the path her voice was taking up to these heights and the way down to the lower voice. Ms Callas could hold her voice at any point of this spiral vocal staircase and continue in any direction. Ms. Radvanovsky strides to the high from the low, and vice versa, and the lack of this vocal connection may be her major flaw. But it would be unreasonable to measure every soprano to Maria Callas and look for flaws.

The formal part of the programme ended with the final duet from Eugene Onegin during which the orchestra under Mr. Orbelian was in slower tempo. Fortunately the singers were not distracted and this lack of synchronicity was ironed out by the well-pronounced and passionate singing from both of them.

The young and promising Jean-Philippe Tremblay conducted the orchestra with enthusiasm and energy resulting in an equally powerful, coherent and convincing sound. The programme brochure introduced Mr. Tremblay as a 31-year-old conductor and violist. We will follow his undoubtedly glorious career with great interest and hope to hear him in our city again soon.

The Daughter of the Regiment

March 14, 2010

 The fact that the opera may entertain a lighter subject matter than universal human tragedy or esoteric quest does not mean that it is likelier to succeed. On the contrary, failed comedy is a failure if people are not entertained. This one, however, is a very big success.

This is a French-language opera by an Italian composer. It is a story of  a young girl, Marie, found as an orphan baby, adopted and raised by a French regiment stationed in the Tyrol Alps. Young Marie falls in love with Tonio, a boy of an enemy nation, who for the sake of love is going to join the French army. The conflict between love and military duties is about to be resolved when at the gate of the regiment’s barracks appears Marie’s mother, introducing herself as her aunt, comes to take her illegitimate daughter with her, now that she is a wealthy woman, to her home in Paris.

The stage consists of extra-large-print military maps over a bumpy stage floor and the corners of the maps protruding upwards resembling the peaks of the Tyrol Alps. The NATO star is shining at the other end of the sky. The wash of long johns for the entire regiment is on the clothesline across the stage with a bucket of potatoes ready for peeling.

Natalie Dessay is a perfect Marie with her wiry body and a hairdo and voice of spiky shape and character. Ms. Dessay genuinely feels the colours of this tomboy character and delivers one after another gems in her acting and singing alike. Her finely tuned expressiveness resembles the innocent humour of Walt Disney’s early cartoon characters. At the other end of the spectrum her farewell to the regiment is sung in rich emotional nuances and a precise rendition.

Juan Diego Florez admitted in an interview that the emotional, slow sequences are far more demanding for him than the famous 9 high Cs in a row. Mr. Florez too is a triumphant success in this role.  

The musty and blasé old aristocracy and its hierarchy of servants are depicted in the grotesque well-choreographed motions in the second act topped up by the smashing appearance of Dawn French as La Duchesse, producing superb visual and orchestral synergy.

The most charming scene visually, near the end, is the arrival of the devoted Tonio, who enters at the top of the military tank followed by the entire regiment, His arm pointing victoriously  toward his beloved Marie. Utterly cute.

The recitatives are well acted, dramatized and staged. Felicity Palmer is remarkable for the steady voice of her lower register whether in recitative or while singing.

Every detail in this production was well developed and craftily assembled into one firmly coherent  and smashing whole, with an enthusiastic sound from the orchestra and the superb cast of singers. The most difficult of comedy, the farce, was produced to the delight and amusement of any audience. Big bravo to all.

No wonder that the production has been revived, but the perfect blend of this cast would be difficult to surpass for any contemporary contenders.

Love for sale – the story of Traviata

March 12, 2010

 

La Traviata was my first thoroughly explored opera. On the following pages I will share my impressions of several different versions, most of which were produced within the last decade. Half of them are traditional and the other half are modern, Zeitgeist, or so-called Regietheater, versions. Regietheater is a term that refers to a production in which the role of the director is creative in introducing contemporary elements, usually related to scene, décor, costumes, altering libretto instructions, and transposing the story into a new place and time, thus bringing the main idea closer to the contemporary spectators. Since video technology made it possible to preserve the images and reach much wider and less prejudicial audiences than the regular attendees of live performances, the popularity of this approach seems to be on a constant rise. Hurray!

The story of La Traviata is based on Alexandre Dumas’ famous romance novel “Lady with Camellias” which was inspired by a real-life mistress or courtesan and her premature death due to tuberculosis, or to use the popular euphemism, consumption. The story in short goes like this: beautiful. free-spirited. young woman Violetta lives showered with the attention of many wealthy, elderly men  eager to take pleasure in her youth and beauty, which they honour with material reward. She attends parties and other night life entertainment, and that is all she does, celebrating in her own way living in the here and now, by submitting herself to the life of sensual pleasures. At one such party she meets Alfredo, and the famous male-female chemistry does the rest. They are madly into each other without any inhibition. Violeta’s conflict lies in the entrapment of love: committing herself to one man to the exclusion of all other men. Alfredo has already made his commitment by building his life on traditional values: marriage, children, and family.

Based on some historical data the true story may as well be like this: Around 1840 there lived  Alphonsine Plessis who came to live in Paris for the reasons that may be further researched. Some sources suggest that Alexandre Dumas younger was one of those who enjoyed her company. Franz List, Wagner’s father-in-law was allegedly another of her admirer. She  died at the age of 22.  Alphonsine knew the laws of the world and despite  her tender age she understood very well that she is not entitled to a relationship based on love, being deeply on a path of selling her body and beauty for living.

Violetta and her Alfredo throw themselves into an intense, sensual affair. The reality comes knocking on Violetta’s door in the form of Alfredo’s father, who has practical concerns for his foolish son who went mad for a courtesan. He choses to negotiate the break-up with Violetta. He visits Violeta at her countryside home to beg her to let Alfredo go, telling her that Alfredo’s connection to her may ruin the family plans for other provident marital arrangements. Violetta is wounded to death. But she knows very well the laws, especially those unwritten. Bleeding the life force rapidly from that event on, she promises to the father of her beloved, that she will abandon his son Alfredo. She sacrifices her feelings, her love knowing quite well that in that world there is no place for such love.  She meets Alfredo by chance at one of the festivities, where he, believing in his mediocre self centered importance that she tossed him away, humiliates her publicly, insulting her carried away  by his selfish narrow-minded ignorance. Violetta’s health spirals down rapidly as she throws herself back into a whirlwind of the oblivion of the oldest trade she is into. Her illness progresses. Next we see is that she is dying. Before she leaves this world comes Alfredo with his father to honour her noble sacrifice.  Violetta dies.

A traditional production would follow this story with the strict adherence to the costumes, decor and mannerism of the period and to the literal letter of the libretto instructions, limiting itself to a better or worse level of mime. If the soprano diva is beautiful it is an asset and the difference between various productions is measured in the level of lavishness of the set, decor and costumes. Such a production has a limited maneuvering ground to elaborate the characters or the drama between the actors/singers. They usually sing standing beside each other while exchanging fatalistic statements. They often act as if engaged in declamation entrusted to the audience. The advantage of a traditional production is in the focus on singing and music as opposed to the artistic freedom of reshaping a message of the story in the language of décor, costumes, acting and scene. There are also mid-way attempts to retain some elements of the original set and throw in one or few elements of modern times. Such gimmicks hardly add anything more than a brief amusement to the spectators, which is a dangerous way to treat your audience. It does not yield lasting impressions and if not well woven into the tissue of the entire production backfires with the disapproval of critic and audience alike.

Strict adherence to the libretto and the original stage instructions prevents the universality of the theme from reaching audiences several centuries later. Esthetics change, appearances change, décor changes, and fashion changes. At the time it was composed you could buy for pennies the paintings sold today for millions of dollars…one has to be educated to catch all the fine lines that stem from the piece. To connect the audience with the drama, to have them recognize the opera’s theme in the world around them, it helps to cut through the distracting alien layers of odd costumes and the furniture you now see in films, museums or houses of very rich people. On the other hand, dressing the singers in jeans may not be enough to anchor the story in our world.

If the production team shuts its eyes and ears to these changes what is left is imitation. A modern production takes the liberty of altering the elements of the stage and gives a more contemporary appearance. In doing that it is essential to have a concept, an underlying idea, a clear picture of what you wish to say, and in doing so consistency helps, or at least it prevents the risk of a job half done.

The line between fine and too much

March 8, 2010

A year after Willy Decker’s La Traviata, Rolando Villazón sings in a traditional production in Los Angeles with Renée Fleming as Violetta. American native and darling, Renée Fleming, whose voice is often referred to as liquid gold had to have the best Alfredo of the day–Rolando Villazón, that is. It is obvious that Ms. Fleming studied and very intently prepared for her role. Maybe too intently.  She sings as if with a clear determination to add something new to this role. To any such aspiring artist commendable advice is given by the brilliant light-versed American poet, Ogden Nash, in a verse that goes something like this:  “Listen, Rembrandt, why don’t’ you add little red here…”.In other words, with less eagerness she could have done much better.  In his review for the Opera News, Ira Siff does not hesitate to call her efforts “gilding the lily”. So the result is a peculiar, dull, shallow and flat sound in many lower register vowels and too many excessive shrieks. Her vocal ability does not sustain her efforts. To put it gently, she approaches dangerously close to the borderline of kitsch. I heard Renée Fleming in a recital in Toronto several years ago, and ever since then I have been under the impression that she may run out of her voice. There is a sense of something precisely planned and calculated in her singing which induces anxiety in a listener.  Villazón was singing with all his might and lungs. The production, effervescent with luxurious costumes and a stage rich in detail, creates perhaps too much of a distracting commotion without adequately benefiting the final result, which raises the question: why would anyone bother making yet another lavish period production?

Mr. Brian Large who directed the video version could have spared us, the home audience, by editing out numerous interruptions of frantic, exaggerated applause.

Peter Mussbach on being and nothingness

March 5, 2010

Peter Mussbach’s Traviata on DVD, as performed in 2003 at the Aix-en-Provence festival promises on its cover the story of a death and love. That is what it delivers. And so much more.

While Willy Decker’s Traviata is the last breath in the joy of life, Peter Mussbach’s Traviata is one long last breath of death. Gracious Mireille Delunsch is the Violetta. Her lyrical voice of subdued expressiveness and a flavour of fragility convey this agony with searing emotional authenticity. Matthew Polenzani’s Alfredo is well nuanced in emotional spectrum and depth. His Alfredo feels almost as equally unfortunate as Violetta and only slightly less tragic remaining throughout, firmly centred in the role. Željko Lučić, my fellow compatriot from the non-existent Yugoslavia, gifted with a gorgeous voice of remarkable width and an echo of a cathedral bell, was an impressive father Germont thanks mostly to his vocal ability. It would be utterly mind-spinning had his acting be a little more fine-tuned. I cannot quite pinpoint what was imperfect there, maybe a little excess of intent was visible, but this comes under the category of hair-splitting.

There is a custom in some cultures that if a girl dies before she gets married she is buried in a wedding gown. Such funeral apparel is the only dress this Violetta wears. In fact she appears as already dead.  There is only one moment in this Traviata when Violetta appears alive, and that is when she meets the father Germont. This is the only time she is trying to negotiate something for herself in her earthly life, the only occasion when she for a moment she considers her life a reality. That is when she losses the only thing that matters to her. But, did she ever have it in the first place? Was it yet another illusion? Everything else before and after this moment of attempt to be in this world to claim her love, is either recollection of a nightmare life passing before her as if  she is a remote, detached observer from another world, or everything just fades away and becomes reduced to mere flashes of fluorescent light in the darkness.

The entire opera appears as one final prolonged look back at the life already gone in which there was nothing anyways, only some shadows and distant noises. This becomes strikingly obvious in the scene which takes place in the countryside home.  What in the libretto is suggested as a country house where Violetta and Alfredo enjoy their passionate love affair, Mr. Mussbach stages as Violetta’s lifeless body lying on the ground, face towards the floor, over which, as if he does not notice her, Alfredo sings his exaltation of redeeming love into a void emptiness . Was her love ever a possibility, regardless of her terminal illness, regardless of her past?

The cold empty black stage remains unchanged throughout. It is divided into front and back planes by a transparent black curtain. It is all one big nothing. The dynamic is created by intermittent film footage superimposed over the images of the story as it unfolds. The film depicts a road as an unambiguous symbol of a life path. Violetta’s life is a speedy highway trip through the rainy night. This life by night is from time to time seen through a rainy windshield from the position of a traveler in the hands of an invisible driver in an invisible vehicle. The road sometimes turns into a tunnel. Maybe it is the same tunnel in which another young woman, a real princess, met her death in the arms of her forbidden lover. There are other hints at fallen heroines of life depicted in this story. Some people recognize in Violetta’s hairstyle and dress hints at Marilyn Monroe. Life and fiction abound with inspiration for the theme of  the tragic fate of love without the blessing of social approval.

Throughout the performance the stage is lit with a somber light which does not shine but rather merely reveals the dark joyless shadows of equally dark and joyless people passing by Violeta only remotely. The line between illusions reality and hallucinations is blurred. It is all real and unreal at the same time. That is perhaps the greatest effect of this production.

The only time in which we see a crisp and refreshing light akin to sunlight is when long and painful agony ends.  

In spite of merciless reduction in colour and décor, this Traviata delivers this tragic story in flavours stronger and sharper than any other Traviata I have seen. 

The DVD should contain a warning for the emotionally infirm not to watch this production without access to the shoulder of a responsible and balanced adult.

La Traviata of Willy Decker

March 1, 2010

When the director’s name precedes the names of the greatest singers in a production, something extraordinary has happened. It will probably not be earlier than a hundred years from now that we see something so clean, dazzling and radical as Willy Decker’s La Traviata of the 2005 Salzburg Festival. The newly released program of the Metropolitan Opera NY prides itself in cloning this production now, five years later, with different singers and it is scheduled for the upcoming New Year’s Gala.

In many aspects this is a revolutionary performance that has changed the face of how opera may also be staged, bringing to life a broad specter of emotions and exploring to inconceivable depths the dramatic tensions of this deeply human drama. We are fortunate to be contemporaries of Willy Decker, who has approached libretto with a radical intervention.

The entire scene throughout all three acts consists of a bare white oval wall with the door on the left side, on the right side a simple, giant clock of a design such as is usually seen in railway stations. Along the entire length of the wall runs a built-in bench following the shape of the wall.  The seed of this simplicity can be traced back to the scene in act one of the 1994 Covent Garden production of La Traviata. But now it is reduced to the bare bones. A couple of simple Ikea couches,  floral drapes and a bottle of champagne are the only additional props.

The cast is perfect: Anna Netrebko as Violeta, Rolando Vilazzón as Alfredo, and excellent in the role of Alfredo’s father is Tomas Hampson. 

Exemplifying in this role the “living in the moment” lifestyle fully anchored in the character, Anna Netrebko becomes  Violeta with full physical and emotional presence, delivering her role in an unending series of emotionally charged and focused exchanges  with Alfredo, generating the unparalleled dramatic peaks rich in flavours and nuances. Such a Violeta is complemented by the superb singing and acting of Villazón, who upholds the drama revolving around Violeta, gentle, fragile and dying.

Passion is in conflict with duty, and it is in this conflict that Willy Decker turns upside down a deeply rooted prejudice against the fallen woman who by falling passionately in love shows that in the bosom of such a woman may well beat the heart of a noble princess.

Violeta suffers and cries, loves and dies, as such a princess. Bruised and hurt, humiliated and abandoned, she remains true to herself to her stellar substance; such is Violeta as Willy Decker sees her.

Thomas Hampson as father Germont, with his high-pressure bottled anguish and rigidity, delivered a well paced  and most remarkable character portrayal in singing this role.

The whirlwind of life is portrayed as a faceless crowd of uniformly dressed men holding champagne glasses swarming around her or looming over her head according to the libretto’s demands.

Willy Decker also reduces the stage relevance of ephemeral characters, such as Flora Bervoix or Annina, to the absolute minimum. On the other hand a new person on the stage, the personification of Death, is expanded into the permanent, silent presence of a mute and grim man. Brilliant.

One secret of this masterpiece production is the meticulously studied choreography. No single movement is left to arbitrary improvisation. The result of this serious study is that every single snapshot of this production may be easily considered to be a photograph of a Rene Magritte painting.

I hope that the marketing team of this production has realized that in the images of this La Traviata as posters lays a considerable potential for revenues.