Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Violetta Valéry – Angela Gheorghiu
Alfredo Germont – Ramón Vargas
Giorgio Germont – Roberto Frontali
Flora Bervoix – Natascha Petrinsky
Annina – Tiziana Tramonti
Gastone – Enrico Cossutta
Barone Douphol – Alessandro Paliaga
Marchese d'Obigny – Piero Terranova
Dottor Grenvil – Luigi Roni
Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet
of the Teatro alla Scala
Lorin Maazel, conductor
Liliana Cavani, stage director
Recorded live from the Teatro alla Scalla di Milano, 2007.
- More than 70 minutes of highlights from 26 critically acclaimed opera, ballet and documentary productions on Blu-ray Disc.
- Blu-ray Catalogue
Picture format: 1080i Full-HD
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Region code: 0 (All Regions)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 132 mins (opera)
No. of Discs: 1 (BD50)
Lorin Maazel, cond; Angela Gheorghiu (
); Ramón Vargas (
); Roberto Frontali (
); Teatro alla Scala Ch & O
ARTHAUS 101 342 (Blu-ray: 132:00) Live: Milan 7/2007
This review begins with a confession: Until now I have never been particularly taken with
. Despite owning two fine recordings (Moffo/Tucker on RCA and Cotrubas/Domingo on DG), and seeing it several times on stage, I have heretofore found it unconvincing as both drama and music. That has now changed completely, thanks to this flawed but compelling production. The reason can be stated very succinctly: Angela Gheorghiu. Her assumption of Violetta, both vocally and visually, is simply stunning. The voice has it all—phenomenal technical security and breath control from bottom to top, fluent coloratura (though one can visually see the physical effort involved in its production), secure intonation, beauty of tone, and the rare combination of lightness and weight needed to project all the different aspects of this notoriously difficult role. Equally critical, however, is her complete identification with the character, an assumption so total and natural that at times while viewing it I forget I am watching a performance. Her every facial expression and small gesture are telling; her plight and emotions so compelling that at several points tears well up in my eyes. Rarely have I been so moved upon viewing a film or stage production of a play or opera.
Now for the bad news—musically, the rest of this production is not up to the same exalted standard. For the most part, Lorin Maazel is an asset, and far superior to many other conductors of this work. His legendary technical command is always in evidence, and he shapes the whole score in an arch that properly makes Violetta’s outburst “Amami, Alfredo! Amami quant’io t’amo!” the fulcrum of the entire opera. Unfortunately, he also sometimes indulges in his notorious penchant for quirkiness; the tempo after the act I “Brindisi” borders on the manic, while the Gypsy scene and conclusion of act II are labored and almost dragging. Ramón Vargas generally sings well, though a few of his top notes are slightly raw. Unfortunately, his physical appearance is positively unappetizing, with an overly pudgy build, stringy greasy hair, and three days’ growth of unshaven beard rendering the attraction between Alfredo and Violetta visually implausible. One wonders if he was physically ill during this production. With Roberto Frontali as Germont
, the problem is inverted; he looks and acts every inch the part, but his vocal production is painfully desiccated and unfocused. Shockingly for one of the world’s leading opera houses, all of the
singers have voices that can only be described as wretched.
The sets are traditional, opulent, and tasteful, not garish and overwhelming as in the misconceived Zefirelli film version; an excellent and effective dramatic touch is the montage of Violetta’s remembrances shown during the act II orchestral prelude. The sound quality is good if not exceptional; the same can be said for the Blu-ray video. Unfortunately, while there are more than a dozen filmed versions of
now available, there is not one without significant flaws. For most people a first choice will likely be the 2006 Los Angeles Opera production on Decca with Renée Fleming, Rolando Villazón, Renato Bruson, and James Conlon. While Villazón is the ideal Alfredo—arguably the best ever recorded—Fleming’s Violetta strikes me as too generalized and artificial (the huge fake smile she keeps on her face during “Ah, fors’è lui” drives me to distraction), Bruson is vocally worn, and Conlon’s conducting disastrously lame. (Remember how Georges Prêtre incompetently destroyed the vocally exquisite RCA studio recording with Caballé, Bergonzi, and Milnes?) Gheorghiu’s previous film version from 1994 with Sir Georg Solti, also on Decca, has an Alfredo (Frank Lopardo) who believes he’s singing Siegmund instead. A 1993 Sony issue features Gheorghiu’s sometime husband Roberto Alagna as a superior Alfredo and the conducting of Ricardo Muti, but Tiziana Fabbricini’s Violetta sounds like the poor man’s Maria Callas. A 1993 Teldec version has an inferior, if acceptable, staging, with Edita Gruberova a good but somewhat edgy-voiced Violetta, Neil Shicoff a solid but nerdy Alfredo (he looks and acts like Leo Bloom in
), Giorgio Zancanaro an overly stentorian Germont, and Carlo Rizzi an uneven podium presence. The 2005 DG issue of the Salzburg Festival Eurotrash production with Rizzi, Villazón, Anna Netrebko, and Thomas Hampson has a first-rate vocal cast (though Netrebko’s Violetta is not to my taste) but is intolerable to watch. A 2005 Arthaus version conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, also featuring Hampson’ Germont, has Eva Mei as a vocally insecure Violetta and Piotr Beczala as a solid but uninspired Alfredo. Beverly Sills fans may want her 1976 New York City Opera production on VAI, but she is past her prime and the rest of the cast is no more than earnest and competent. The aforementioned 1982 Zefirelli film on Universal, with Teresa Stratas, Plácido Domingo, Cornell MacNeil, and James Levine, has a poor Germont, uses garishly decadent settings, and carves up the score with more cuts than a Christmas dinner goose.
All that said, I wish to put in a recommendation for two older film versions. The first is a VAI release of a 1972 staging in Tokyo, conducted by Nino Verchi and featuring Renata Scotto, José Carreras, and Sesto Bruscantini. The film quality is, frankly, poor to terrible, often blurry and grainy, and the sound, though listenable, is not high fidelity. But what singing! Grand opera simply doesn’t get any more grand than Scotto as a Violetta of the old-fashioned
school, and she sweeps all before her like a vocal tidal wave. A youthful Carreras is in his wonderful vocal prime, if a bit inattentive to note values and rhythm. Bruscantini’s voice is somewhat worn, but there was no cannier vocal actor and he makes a convincing Germont. This performance is also out on CD (Opera d’Oro) if the visual aspect doesn’t matter to you. The second is a 1968 film version with Anna Moffo, Franco Bonisolli, and Gino Bechi, conducted by Giuseppe Patané. Moffo as Violetta (one of her prime roles) is visually and vocally almost as affecting and moving as Gheorghiu; more surprisingly, Bonisolli—a singer usually given to vocally coarse mannerisms—is a superior Alfredo. Even more remarkably, the elderly Gino Bechi, who made several notable complete opera recordings with Beniamino Gigli from 1938 to 1946 and then virtually dropped from sight, provides a somewhat dry-sounding Germont, but the voice is still recognizably that of 25 years before. Patané’s conducting is well gauged; the singers all look their parts and act exceptionally well; pastel and sepia tones dominate the elegant and lovely sets and costumes. If I were forced to choose only one
on film to keep, it would be this 1968 version, though I would part reluctantly with Gheorghiu and not argue with anyone who prefers Fleming.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi
Natascha Petrinsky (Soprano),
Tiziana Tramonti (Soprano),
Enrico Cossutta (Tenor),
Ramón Vargas (Tenor),
Roberto Frontali (Baritone),
Angela Gheorghiu (Soprano)
Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,
Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Written: 1853; Italy
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