A few weeks ago I reviewed Phillippe Béziat’s documentary traviata et nous, about the making of the 2011 Aix festival La traviata. I’ve now had a chance to watch the DVD of the finished product and it’s superb. Forget those Traviatas in which a star soprano simpers vacuously across an overstuffed set, this is compelling drama. François Sivadier’s production is dark, dangerous and incredibly moving. Natalie Dessay’s Violetta is a terrifyingly intense portrait of a woman who knows from the beginning she is dying in “this desert which is known to men as Paris”. There is no further need for heavy symbolism to remind us of the centrality of death to the piece which makes an interesting contrast with Willy Decker’s famous production.
Although very much centred on Dessay’s portrayal of Violetta this production has other things going on. It’s staged as a “performance” not in a crude or cutesy “theatre in a theatre” way but there are moments when we are made aware of the artificiality such as at the beginning of Act 2 when Flora clearly presents the party to the audience. I’ve also never seen the allegory of capitalism that is at the heart of the piece so clearly delineated. The rich and privileged demand that the poor give up what little they have to gild the privileged’s lifestyle. It’s always there at the core of the drama of course but how often is it dressed up as a “noble sacrifice” rather than a naked assertion of class privilege? I could go on and on about the details in this production but one would do better to watch it than read a blow-by-blow.
Besides Dessay’s tour de force performance there’s some fine singing and acting from the rest of the cast. Charles Castronovo is an ardent and lyrical Alfredo and he has brilliant chemistry with Dessay. Ludovic Tézier, as Germont père, seems a bit bluff and coarse to begin with but seems to grow more sympathetic as the piece progresses and, in any event, his manner seems to fit the production well. The stand out among the supporting cast is Silvia de La Muela as Flora. Her contributions all seem to ratchet the electricity up a bit. Louis Langrée is clearly in sympathy with the production and drives a quite brisk but musical reading of the score, well supported by the London Symphony Orchestra and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.
Video direction is by Don Kent and it’s decent enough. It’s perhaps better early on where he lets us see the set whereas towards the end he succumbs to the temptation to over focus on Violetta. Still, it’s quite watchable. The picture is pretty decent and the DTS surround sound distinctly better than average with lots of detail and a fair bit of bass extension. Documentation is minimal and there are no extras but if one wants to know more one can watch the documentary. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Spanish and Italian.
In summary, this disk may not please traditionalists although I suspect it’s closer to the “composer’s original intention” than 9/10 traditional productions. For lovers of opera as theatre it’s a must see.