Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Also available on standard DVD
(Blu-ray Disc Version)
Violetta – Renée Fleming
Alfredo Germont – Joseph Calleja
Giorgio Germont – Thomas Hampson
Baron Douphol – Eddie Wade
Doctor Grenvil – Richard Wiegold
Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra
Antonio Pappano, conductor
Richard Eyre, stage director
Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, June and July 2009.
- Antonio Pappano interviews Renée Fleming
Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: LPCM 2.0 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 135 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (Blu-ray)
R E V I E W:
Antonio Pappano, cond; Renée Fleming (
); Joseph Calleja (
); Thomas Hampson (
); Royal Op House Ch & O
OPUS ARTE OA 1040 D (DVD); OA BD7076 D (Blu-ray: 154:00) Live: Covent Garden 6/27 & 30/2009
34:1 I reviewed the recent DVD of
with Angela Gheorghiu, Ramón Vargas, Roberto Frontali, and Lorin Maazel at La Scala. To summarize that briefly, my verdict was: excellent staging, superlative Gheorghiu, good Vargas and Maazel, hapless Frontali and
singers. I also provided an extensive overview of other versions of the opera on DVD; all are flawed, but the best alternatives are the 1968 film version on VAI with Anna Moffo, Franco Bonisolli, Gino Bechi, and Giuseppe Patané; a 1972 Tokyo staging starring Renata Scotto, José Carreras, Sesto Bruscantini, and Nino Verchi, also on VAI; and the 2006 Los Angeles Opera production on Decca with Renée Fleming, Rolando Villazón, Renato Bruson, and James Conlon. Opus Arte now brings us a new version with Renée Fleming, and while it too is not without its flaws, it joins the aforementioned entries in the top rank of
performances on video.
At the risk of seeming like a gaggle of geese nibbling this DVD to death, I will state up front that this version of the opera is carried by a few great strengths over multiple secondary weaknesses. The strengths are easy to state: All the principal roles are securely sung, a top-notch conductor is on the podium, and the staging is sensible. In particular, Joseph Calleja is one of the greatest Alfredos ever to record the role. While not ideally handsome and dashing in physical appearance, he has the ringing tenor voice, secure technique, heartbreaking plangency of timbre, and interpretive imagination for the ideal Alfredo. Every time he opens his mouth, you simply don’t want him to close it again. He is also an effective actor whose facial expressions, postures, and gestures harmonize with his singing.
After Calleja, however, the “yes, but” element of this review enters in for everyone and everything else, beginning with the Violetta of Renée Fleming. Doubtless she is a very good Violetta, and superior to many rivals, but I do not think she is a truly great one. Compared to her Los Angeles performance from three years earlier, her interpretation is considerably deeper but her vocal technique (particularly in “Sempre libera”) is more labored and the sound less creamy. Thankfully, she does far less of the distracting grimacing and bizarre grinning than before, though sometimes it still intrudes (someone needs to tell her to rehearse in front of a mirror). However, my greater concern is that her acting is too calculated and external to the character rather than indwelling it; she expends too much energy portraying, rather than being, Violetta. The gestures and movements all seem too self-conscious; instead of just picking up a champagne bottle, or flitting a handkerchief, or sitting down in a chair, one can almost see her thinking, “Now I’m supposed to pick up the champagne bottle,” “Now I should flit my handkerchief,” “Now I should sit down in this chair.” Again, I would prefer to emphasize the real improvement in her characterization in just three years, but this dimension is present and it does matter.
Next there is the Germont of Thomas Hampson. The good news is that he is in steady and secure voice here—not always the case recently—which is more than can be said for much of his painfully superannuated competition. The less than ideal news is that, in order to keep the voice steady, he constantly forces it so that every syllable is pushed out at a
with a hard, unyielding tone that limits him to a single mode of expression, one of preemptive sternness. His acting and facial gestures are similarly limited and wooden; when Violetta pleads for his fatherly embrace he remains stock-still and ignores her, and displays equal unconcern for his son at “Di Provenza il mar.” In an unintentionally comic sartorial aspect, the light green piping on his brown suit unavoidably conjures up a chocolate sundae with mint drizzle icing, while his stiff posture and lumbering gait in an over-padded full-length fur coat keep bringing to mind actor Fred Gwynne (aka Herman Munster). Again, I don’t want these smaller details to override the fact that Hampson’s Germont trumps that of many lesser singers, but again they are present and do matter.
The rest can be summarized more briefly. One always expects fine Verdi conducting when Antonio Pappano is in the pit, and so it proves here; but this time he seems a bit too deferential to his singers and the performance lacks the extra
found in his very best interpretations, and I actually find myself preferring Maazel overall despite his occasional eccentricities. The
singers are uniformly excellent to a rare degree—every one of them could easily be singing a principal role in a major opera instead—and the deft stage direction makes their momentary interactions contribute far more to the cogency of the plot that I have ever experienced before. The recorded sound and film quality are quite good, with the quality of the Blu-ray disc only marginally superior to that of the regular DVD; the camerawork is sensible if not exceptional; the costumes are of the period and (Hampson’s suit and coat excepted) attractive and elegant; the ballet sequence at Flora’s party is nicely staged.
My one other major reservation concerns the production’s sets, which are quite pedestrian. Act I is set in a round room with brown wood paneling and a single large window with blinds in the back, with a small round settee and semicircular padded backless benches around it—no banquet table, chandelier, or anything else to indicate either elegance or the intended significance of Violetta in the round. While not the awful Willy Decker sofa and clock, it’s a major disappointment. The villa interior for act II, scene 1 is painted a drab eggshell blue and has no furniture other than a long work table and a few chairs. Several paintings—whether waiting to be hung or sold is not clear—are stacked on the floor to one side, and several little squares painted with stripes—color swatches, perhaps?—rest in a row on the wall molding halfway off the floor. It’s not very attractive, and simply leaves one baffled regarding the desired effect. By contrast, Flora’s party in act II scene 2 is appropriately elegant, marred only by garish red stage lighting, a huge modern dome light fixture hanging from the ceiling like an oversized cafeteria heat lamp hovering over sandwiches. Act III has an appropriately simple setting of a bare room outfitted with a bed, a dresser, and a couple of chairs, but again is marred by two enormous windows with blinds, against which inexplicably tall shadows (up to 30 feet) of carnival revelers are cast after Violetta finishes “Addio del passato.” Compared to the high-class La Scala staging for Gheorghiu, this is an impoverished country cousin.
So, once again, we still await the ideal
. In the best of all possible worlds, I would be able to take the La Scala production, replace its wretched
singers with their Covent Garden counterparts, swap out Vargas for Calleja, and replace Frontali with almost any other baritone from another DVD. (Leonard Warren, where are you when we need you?) Barring such a pleasing impossibility, however, this production is as good as any other and better than most, and is recommended accordingly.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi
Joseph Calleja (Tenor),
Richard Wiegold (Bass),
Eddie Wade (Baritone),
Renée Fleming (Soprano),
Thomas Hampson (Baritone)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Written: 1853; Italy
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