Thursday, April 19, 2012

Della traviata sorridi al desio

Willy Decker's Traviata--intelligent, elegant, and brutally direct--is, to my mind, one of the most satisfying productions I've seen at the Met. The rigidity of social convention against which Violetta and Alfredo are pitted was particularly apparent in this iteration, but more on that anon. I was very pleased to note positive reactions to the production from older opera-goers around me, as well. The indefatigable Fabio Luisi led the orchestra in an account which was admirably responsive to the singers. The prelude to Act I was leisurely, but tempi quickened thereafter. This rapidity served the ensembles well, working with the tone of the production to give a sense of unresting activity, if not of inexorable fate. The feverishly intense gambling scene was an orchestral highlight. In Act III, both for "Largo al quadrupedo" and "Prendi, quest'è l'immagine," the orchestra was forcefully ominous, almost to a fault. The woodwinds distinguished themselves, with the oboe part in "Addio del passato" beautifully done. The clarinet solo in Act II as Violetta is writing her letter to Alfredo actually made me tear up. A quibble would be that I could have wished a greater sense of dramatic continuity from the orchestra, but  the effect of this vignette-oriented approach is one I am still mulling.

Among the heartless party guests, Kyle Pfortmiller distinguished himself as the Marchese d'Obigny, with a distinctive, richly-colored sound. Luigi Roni's Grenvil had forceful presence, and nuanced the tone of his silent interactions with Dessay well; it caused a shiver when he finally sang. Maria Zifchak was a vocally solid and sympathetic Annina. Dmitri Hvorostovsky did not seem to be at his effortless-sounding best but still sang a charismatic, vocally rich and dramatically nuanced Germont père. His interpretation offered chilling insights. A question begged by the libretto is, if Papa Germont knows how great the sacrifice he asks of Violetta is, if his opinion of her is transformed, what keeps him from reconsidering? Hvorostovsky answers this question: he really doesn't believe her. All Violetta's utterances are interpreted through what he "knows" about her already. He laughs at her--laughs!--when she says she's dying; for him, speaking of her sacrifice is a charade of good manners, helping her maintain a polite fiction of virtue. It is only at the very end--"Addio"--that his confidence is shaken, as he turns for an instant to regard her, his hat already in his hand. His scene with Alfredo I found very moving. Hvorostovsky's pause at the threshold, contemplating the stripped furniture, raised the possibility that he had come back to stop Violetta; at the least, he's surprised to find her already gone. "Di Provenza il mar il suol" was luxuriant, with the radiant sun of Alfredo's native soil in his father's voice. Not without reason, Germont is convinced that his plea to his son cannot fail. This aristocratic assurance was equally apparent in the finale of Act II, and aptly shaken in Act III, although the dignity of his bearing and authority of his sound were undimmed.

Matthew Polenzani sang Alfredo with graceful lyricism and admirable vocal agility. I really liked his hapless Alfredo in Act I. (I have no problem with hapless Alfredos... Alfredi?) Polenzani has a nice bright tone, and Act II was finely sung, but somewhat problematically, I never felt that his Alfredo matured. His furious pique when he taunts Violetta with the possible death of the baron was more credible than his passion for her. In Act III, he seemed genuinely distressed, but still uncomprehending. Natalie Dessay's Violetta got off to a somewhat patchy start, but improved vocally for the latter half of Act I. Her dramatic choices I found interesting: like those that exploit her, Violetta has her expectations constrained by convention. Here, Violetta does not take Alfredo's reported solicitude as evidence of passion to be taken seriously, but rather as romantic affectation. It is only when he responds to "Sarò l'Ebe che versa" with the wish for her immortality that she is given pause. I appreciated that Dessay did not allow applause between "Ah! fors'è lui" and "Follie! follie!" which she delivered with breathless desperation. "Sempre libera" sparked with energy, as she smashed a champagne glass against the wall and attacked. Here Dessay demonstrated that she can still command solid runs, which she delivered with fierce conviction. Act II was more uneven, with her sound often seeming fragile and breathy, although she found lovely color in "Ed or si scriva a lui," and phrased Violetta's brokenhearted forgiveness in the finale beautifully. Act III seemed much stronger, making me wonder if Dessay had been saving herself. The letter-reading can require (for me) more than customary exertions to suspend disbelief, but Dessay's was excellent, not histrionic, but deeply despairing. Similarly moving was an "Addio del passato" lyrical in emotional exhaustion, with the final note spun out to almost incredible length, melancholy and haunting. After this moment of breathtaking immediacy, the advent of Alfredo and Germont seemed merely futile. Only after she has accepted Death's embrace does Violetta's anguish cease.

Curtain call photos:

1 comment:

  1. This has to be a different performance than the one I saw. I love the production, too.


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