It’s not all that often I feel genuinely moved by an opera on video. It’s so much less immersive than experiencing live. There is the occasional one. Both the Berlin Parsifal and the Aix-en-Provence La traviata come to mind. The recently released La traviata from the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is another one. It’s an interesting and effective production with a strong cast centred on the searing Violetta of Nadine Sierra.
Davide Livermore sets the piece in Paris in 1968. It’s an interesting choice. Obviously it avoids the “frocks and furniture trap” though there’s plenty of eye candy. It’s close enough to feel almost contemporary while still being an era where a (more or less) arranged marriage is not unthinkable for the haut-bourgeoisie in provincial France. Perhaps, too, for an Italian audience a pervading atmosphere of political instability brings things closer to home.
Act 1 is the sort of party I don’t get invited to (not any more anyway). It’s upscale but only just short of an orgy and it gets broken up violently by the police at the end of the act. Some of the time there’s a flat across the stage with a mirror in the middle which defaults to a distorted image of the conductor but has other uses. The flat is used for “high fashion” projections and is daubed with slogans; “Mon corps, mon choix” etc. It works pretty well. In our first look at Violetta she is clearly very ill though still up for partying hard.
In act 2 we are explicitly in France in 1968. There are posters all over and more slogans. In other respects it looks like a photographer’s studio. The crucial Germont/Violetta scene is extremely affecting with both characters (Germont here is the veteran Leo Nucci) displaying considerable emotional depth. What I find interesting here is that this isn’t a blind assertion of patriarchal privilege. This Germont understands the enormity of what he’s asking for and feels it. So there’s a real change of pace at the scene change because Flora’s party is only a little less louche than Act 1. Weirdly perhaps, the bullfighter is a dwarf (the same one as in the Bayreuth Tannhäuser I think). The “not quite a fight” between Alfredo (Francesco Meli) and Douphol (Francesco Venuti) is well done.
Act 3 is the best of the lot. It’s literally and figuratively dark with a very subdued bachanale. Sierra is superb as the dying Violetta. The reconciliation scene is almost unbearable and Livermore pulls off an effective coup de theâtre at the very end.
Good as the production is it’s the singing and acting that make this a great performance. Nadine Sierra is perhaps the best Violetta I have seen. As an actress she’s as good as Nathalie Dessay and she sings superbly. Her voice is beautiful and capable of a great range of colours and emotions. Her coloratura is spot on. And she just gets better through the piece. “Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti” almost had me in tears and received one of the longest ovations I’ve heard in an opera house. Finally, I’m not sure how many singers could pull off the outfits she wears!
Francesco Meli is a brilliant foil as Alfredo. It’s a genuine Italianate tenor sound with proper top notes but also a hint of steel. Leo Nucci is getting on and there’s not much beauty left in the voice but the musicality and acting skill is still there. There’s also dramatic point in making Germont very much an old man; one whose future may be almost as limited as Violetta’s. The rest of the cast is fine with a lively Flora from Caterina Piva and a sympa Doctor Grenvil in Emanuele Cordaro. The orchestra and chorus are excellent and Zubin Mehta’s conducting is very fine. There’s power where it’s needed but also some real subtlety especially from the woodwinds.
Apart maybe from the very dark third act I don’t think this a particularly difficult production to film. It’s a reasonable sized stage and Tiziano Mancini’s restrained approach with the cameras is effective. On Blu-ray the sound (the usual DTS-HD-MA and 24bit stereo) and video are typical Blu-ray standard. There are no extras on the disk and the booklet could be improved. there’s a generic essay about La traviata where director’s notes would have been more useful. There is a detailed track listing and a synopsis (should you need it!). Subtitle options are Italian, English, French, German, Korean and Japanese.
This is a strong candidate for the best La traviata available on video and that’s in a crowded field with some strong competitors. Most definitely worth a look.
Catalogue number: Dynamic DYN-57955