Notes and Editorial Reviews
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) LA TRAVIATA
Norah Amsellem, Jose Bros, Renato Bruson, Itxaro Mentxaka, Maria Espada, Emilio Sanchez, David Rubiera, Marco Moncloa
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real, Madrid
Conducted by Jesus Lopez Cobos
Stage Director Pier Luigi Pizzi
Picture Format: 16:9 Anamorphic (widescreen)
Sound Format: DTS Surround / LPCM Stereo
Running Time: 175 mins
Region Code: All regions
Menu languages: English
Subtitle Languages : English/French/German/Spanish/Italian
Norah Amsellem as Violetta leads a cast of outstanding talent in Pier Luigi Pizzi’s beautiful production filmed with High Definition cameras and recorded in multi-track surround sound. Jesus Lopez Cobos conducts the Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real (Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Chorus) in an acclaimed reading of one of Verdi’s greatest works.
R E V I E W S
"Norah Amsellem’s Violetta flourishes - vocally and dramatically, nothing is a challenge to her… Thanks to Pizzi’s intelligence, every detail in the action works in this production... Jesus Lopez Cobos’ maturity is astonishing... his perfect conducting looks for emotion and finds it... This production is only waiting for a DVD to make history." -- Le Monde de la Musique
"A triumphant success... Norah Amsellem is an absolutely exceptional Violetta, a complete and fascinating artist." -- L’Opera
This production, from Madrid's Teatro Real, apparently was born in controversy: When new in 2003, it was to star Angela Gheorghiu. She arrived two weeks after the rest of the cast, attended one rehearsal, and quit, stating that "The public in Madrid wants to see me in La Traviata, but in a real Traviata, not in a vulgar production full of sexual references." Ah yes, we wouldn't want Violetta to be involved in anything sexual. At any rate, French soprano Norah Amsellem stepped into director Pier Luigi Pizzi's production and scored a great success, and this DVD, taped a year-and-a-half later, in March, 2005, is somewhat of a triumph. It might have been better with Gheorghiu, but I doubt it.
The action has been updated to the 1940s, allowing not only for the obligatory European-production-with-Nazis but for some exquisite, minimalist art deco sets, also by Pizzi (as are the costumes). The first act consists of two rooms, side-by-side boxes, one for the party-filled living room, the other for Violetta's bedroom in which some hanky-panky has just taken place as the curtain rises. Violetta's country house is just as stark and shiny, in very cool blue and white with nothing of nature to be felt, however. Flora's party is lavish and overly-decorated (the opposite of the previous), with a distinctly Asian tone. And the last act begins in darkness, with only a light from Violetta's bathroom to shine on the situation, a light that then follows her to her gloomy bed. She dies on her balcony, in an adjacent box. In other words, aside from the updating, Nazis, and suggestion that there was a threesome involved in Violetta's pre-first act tryst, there's nothing radical here.
Pizzi keeps the action very physical, with Violetta and Alfredo very much in love, and with their concentration intense upon each other. Their interactions are moving and feel right throughout; Pizzi allows Violetta great control and dignity in her scenes with Germont, and it is she who walks out at the end of the denunciation scene. We know what Gheorghiu might have done with the role vocally and temperamentally, and there is no reason to feel that we've missed anything. Amsellem is a fine singer and actress. Her voice is a full lyric, with a superb top and comfort with coloratura, and she has enough power for the climactic "Amami, Alfredo". She moves with great naturalness and her large features are very expressive; indeed, she looks more catastrophically ill in the last act than anyone since Teresa Stratas (in the Zeffirelli movie), who looks dead from the beginning. Amsellem has gorgeous pianissimos that she uses to great effect. Her voice may not be inherently beautiful, but she's a great Violetta nonetheless.
Not quite up to her level is José Bros' Alfredo. Bros is best known in bel canto roles and he hasn't quite the heft needed for the big scene that closes Act 2, but he tries hard and is very musical. He's as good as Lopardo (with Gheorghiu under Solti) and better than Price (with Sills), and judging only from the audio (I've not seen the video), nowhere near as good as Villazon (with Netrebko). Renato Bruson's voice has dried up to a point of unrecognizability, but he still manages to keep our interest as Germont. The remainder of the cast is very fine.
The picture is bright and clear and the direction for television could not be better, with close-ups, middle, and distance shots just where they should be. The sound is just as good; subtitles are in all European languages. The extras consist of relatively shallow interviews with the singers and conductor that add nothing to our appreciation of the work or production. Pity Pizzi couldn't tell us why he prefers the 1940s to the original.
Jesús López-Cobos opens almost all of the opera's cuts (though only one verse of Germont's cabaletta) and leads with urgency in the public scenes and great warmth in the duets. Those who want Gheorghiu--and her Violetta from 1994 on Decca is ravishing--can still have her; I feel as if I'll want to watch Amsellem again soon.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com