The 2007 recording of Verdi’s La Traviata from Milan’s Teattro alla Scala is extremely traditional but very satisfying. Liliana Cavani’s production is set in the mid 19th century with entirely conventional sets and costumes (with the obligatory cleavage) and nothing in the direction that adds up to an original concept or idea. Act 1 is set in a glitzy ballroom. Act 2 scene 1 takes us to a slightly odd sort of country house bedsit with billiard table In Act 2 scene 2 we are back with the glitz with actual gypsies and bare chested matadors. Act 3 is set in a suitably dark invalid’s bedroom. Angela Gheorghiu’s Violetta goes from ballgown to nightdress to ballgown to nightdress while maintaining Ange levels of, you guessed it, cleavage. The guys are all in evening dress or operetta dress uniforms. It’s all pretty and doesn’t distract from the music.
The music making is very fine. It centres around Gheorghiu inevitably. She gives a full blooded old fashioned diva style performance. Her singing is fabulous and if the acting is maybe a bit broad for video close up I think it must have been spectacular in the house. The full range of emotion is there and her technique is immaculate. She is very well supported by Ramón Vargas as Alfredo and Roberto Frontali as Germont. Vargas, of course, is a terrific singer in this repertoire and on this showing (and his performance in the COC Il Trovatore) his reputation as a bit of a plank in the acting department is rather unfair. Here he looks and sounds the part. I thought Frontali started out slowly. I took a while to warm up to his voice, which isn’t as silky as say Tom Hampson or Gerald Finley, but he has a good sense of style and he sang his big Act 2 aria with excellent control of colour and some real display of emotion. The supporting roles are all perfectly adequate. Lorin Maazel conducts and it’s a very dramatic, well paced reading of the score. The orchestra and chorus respond to his direction extremely well. It’s terrific music making all round.
Paola Longabardo directs the video. It’s a conventional enough effort that shows the production off well. It only gets artsy during the orchestral prelude to Act 3 which is fair enough. There are transition sections between the scenes. They are like costume or set design drawings with ornate fonts and fit rather nicely with the production design concept. The picture (on Blu-ray) is top notch 1080i. The sound is pretty full blooded DTS-HD Master Audio and it sounds very good indeed. There’s maybe a slightly thin tone to the strings, especially in Act 1, which may be a recording artefact or may be what the La Scala orchestra sounds like. In any event it stopped bothering me quite quickly. The subtitle options are Italian, English, German, French and Spanish. There’s a synopsis and chapter listing printed actually inside the plastic box. The leaflet is taken up by a catalogue of Arthaus’ other Blu-ray releases.
This is one of a short series of super cheap Arthaus disks (there’s a Rigoletto and a Tosca too) that have something like 70 minutes of highlights from other Arthaus releases on the disk too. There is also a full priced Arthaus release of this recording without the extras though why anyone would buy that is beyond me.