Watching the Live in HD Metropolitan Opera cinema broadcasts has always been a fascinating and mostly worthwhile experience for me. Some productions are better than others, most ranging from decent to great, with a fair share of superb productions and the odd misfire (2009's 'Tosca' and 'Hansel and Gretel' being my least favourites). That being said, there has always been the thrill of feeling like you are there at the Met yourself, that's how authentic the impact is, except you are actually seeing the production for a much cheaper price and in a more accessible location.
It is hard to say which is Verdi's best opera. Personally don't really dislike any of them, although not being crazy about 'Il Corsaro' or 'Alzira', and those with less than great stories (either from being convoluted, 'Il Trovatore' being one of the most notorious examples in opera of this, or sprawling) still have never less than great and often incredible music with some iconic choruses and arias. What's for sure though is that since hearing the Joan Sutherland/Carlo Bergonzi/Robert Merrill recording and seeing the classic Franco Zeffirelli film, 'La Traviata' has always been one of my personal favourites of his. Just adore the music and the story never fails to move me every time.
2018's Met production is not my favourite 'La Traviata' production, as said despite the cuts Zeffirelli's film is my first choice. As far as the 2018/2019 Met season has gone so far, it's third best so in the middle. Prefer 'Aida' and especially 'La Fanciulla Del West', but it's better than 'Marnie' and 'Samson Et Dalila'. It is not a perfect or great production but there are many fantastic elements and so much to admire.
Starting with what didn't quite work for me, there are two staging misjudgements that just bewildered me. Just to say too that these thoughts were formed well before reading any reviews, which near-universally panned the two staging touches that are about to be decision. Saw absolutely no need for the omnipresent bed, even for what it was trying to signify its purpose felt heavy handed and most of the time it made no sense being there. Fine for Act 3 but irrelevant and a potential health and safety hazard in the big ensembles. Worse was the even more pointless and barely coherent presence of Germont's daughter, only mentioned in the libretto, not much was done with her (further adding to the pointlessness), it really distracted from the heightening drama between the big scene between Violetta and Germont and it also contradicts the character of Germont himself.
Other than those two bewildering touches, didn't find much wrong but did feel that the costumes for the chorus were reminiscent of gaudy kitsch rather than ornate opulence. This is especially true in Act 1, signifying spring. While the HD presentation was as ever top-quality, some of the hosting didn't seem at ease and reminiscent of reading from cue cards.
However, visually mostly the production was pleasing. Particularly effective was the very clever and dynamic lighting, symbolising the four seasons and the transitions, spring and autumn were especially were well done. It helped make the simple but still handsome set more interesting and the costumes for Violetta and Alfredo were sumptuous and distinguished. Did also like the rustic colours in the second half of Act 2. The staging may not have been insightful or illuminating, but it was still involving and emotionally impactful, the busier scenes not being too cluttered or over-crowded and it didn't try to be too complicated. The dramatic high points were done very well, Act 3 was very moving and the scene between Violetta and Germont did have intensity and power. Interesting and wonderfully athletic choreography for the ballet staging, that for the Matador chorus, with more of a telling story through dance feel, faring better.
Musically, this 'La Traviata' is exceptional. The orchestral playing was both rousing and nuanced, with louder and faster scenes having urgency and quieter and more intimate ones being sympathetically done, the quality of the playing being warm and elegant, no brashness or shrillness in sight. The chorus sing with perfect balance and beautiful tone in their party scenes, dramatically they are always engaged even if other productions show their individuality more. In his first production since assuming the Met Musical Director post, Yannick Nezet-Seguin's conducting is accomodating and alert, never too hurried or too languid.
Diana Damrau started off a little unsteadily, but much of her singing is agile and musical and avoids shrillness, "Sempre Libera" daunts many, as does the role itself because of its wide variety of vocal challenges, but she made it sound like she was not terrified in the slightest. Much of the performance is quite magnificent and her acting throughout is fully committed, heart wrenching in Act 3 with a truly powerful "Addio Del Passato". Juan Diego Florez still has the ringing effortless top, with no hints of strain, poised musicianship and seamless smooth as silk phrasing that makes him one of the best tenors today. Worried about Alfredo being too heavy for him, but that was not the case and the Bel Canto, staying true to his roots and strengths, approach he sang with was a valid one. He was always ardent, charming and elegant on stage, with many moments of fire and emotion. Quinn Kelsey gave some of the best singing of the three principals, with some beautiful burnished singing throughout Act 2. Dramatically, he is stern, authoritative and sympathetic in all the right places.
All the supporting roles are well filled, with a bubbly Flora in Kirstin Chavez, Maria Zifchak's caring Annina, Kevin Short's sonorous Dr Grenvil, Jeongcheol Cha's playful Marquis and Dwayne Croft making much of not an awful lot as the Baron.
Concluding, a good 'La Traviata' that had all the makings of being great if a few misjudgements didn't get in the way. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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