La Traviata

When in Rome…

Last weekend was spent amidst the overwhelmingly abundant delights of Rome. Quite why I’m now, on my return, a bit worn out may be explained by the amount that we packed in to four days: Pantheon, Colosseum, Forum, Palatine, Castel Sant’Angelo, St Peter’s, Vatican Museum, Galleria Borghese, San Clemente, numerous smaller churches and a good deal of wandering around the streets of this fascinating city. Unsurprisingly, I’m still digesting it.

Teatro dell'Opera di Roma... nothing to see here, move along...

Teatro dell’Opera di Roma… nothing to see here, move along…

Sadly, there was nothing on at the Teatro dell’Opera to coincide with our visit, but we did get along to two musical events: one planned, the other impromptu. We had prebooked a concert by the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in their newer home at the Parco della Musica at the north side of central Rome. And then, in our hotel, we picked up a leaflet for a ‘dinner-and-show’ package featuring La Traviata. Being at an otherwise loose end, we thought ‘why not?’ and booked it; it turned out to be surprisingly good. (more…)

Damrau rules

After a week in New York, with five performances at the Met (andfor which I still haven’t processed all my notes to write it up – that will follow!), it was nice to be back at ‘home’ (aka Covent Garden) for a revival of the nigh-on 20-year old production of La Traviata. Particularly nice, because from the soprano point of view I can’t recall being quite so completely dumbstruck by a performance. (more…)

*That* Traviata…

At the end of my scribblings on the Traviata in November last year, which starred Ailyn Pérez, I noted that her husband, Stephen Costello, would be singing Alfredo alongside Netrebko in the new year, and concluded the piece with:

Given Ms Netrebko’s track record, there must be a fair chance of a last-minute call to get husband and wife together on stage…

Sure enough, the cancellation came, this time due (not unreasonably) to having to have surgery on her foot.  There was a tense few days and then we were told that Ermonela Jaho, who was the principal protagonist for the post-Christmas run of Traviatas, would step in.  So it seemed that the prophecy was not to be fulfilled.  However, at the last minute, Jaho also fell ill and, lo! Pérez is summoned from her rehearsals for the same piece in Hamburg.  Opera does like a good off-stage drama, and sure enough there was a bit of a buzz for the first performances together of this husband-and-wife team in this repertoire. (more…)

A Traviata that wowed

In the midst of the wall-to-wall Traviatas that make up the Royal Opera’s Christmas/New Year period, I hadn’t expected anything too special of this performance when I booked it.  The bigger money was on Netrebko in January.  I came out of the theatre last night severely doubting that January’s performance will out-do this one.

There’s little needs saying about the production: it delivers, and continues to do so handsomely and straightforwardly.  A succession of casts both great and not-so-great have passed through it since it debut’d in 1994.  This was definitely one of the best. (more…)

Sometimes you don’t feel like commenting…

Well, here we are again.  Nearly a month since the last post and much operatic activity that has passed without comment.  What can I say?  My mind was elsewhere.

In short:  a fabulous Simon Boccanegra with Domingo; an excellent Salome with Angela Denoke; a so-so Traviata with a hyperactive Gheorghiu; and Hänsel und Gretel at Glyndebourne, not quite as good as the last outing. (more…)

Two treats

Two marvellous musical treats today: one live, one recorded. 

At Covent Garden, Renée Fleming was displaying her Violetta in the fast-becoming-a-warhorse Richard Eyre production of La Traviata.  With Thomas Hampson and Joseph Calleja alongside, and Pappano in the pit, it was probably the best revival of that production I’ve seen, having seen pretty much all of them.  Indeed, interestingly, it’s not far off 15 years since that Gheorghiu debut, and a matter of weeks from my 15th year anniversary of attending Covent Garden, so to see the production being so well inhabited and delivering its not inconsiderable goods so efficiently was a real treat.

Fleming was wonderful.  I’ve always had a bit of scepticism about her doing anything other than grand aristocratic ladies (Marschallins, Countesses, that sort of thing).  There’s something in both voice and demeanour which seems regal and somehow detached.  She misses that febrile intensity that you get with a Mattila or even the early Gheorghiu.  The voice is glorious, though, and there is something almost thrilling simply in the technical security of it.  However, in this Traviata, I think she won me over to something else.

The first act was not her strongest.  Somehow, she couldn’t get coquettish and flighty, either vocally or in acting terms, despite the most detailed and ‘active’ presentation of the work of any singer to inhabit the role.  Her performance was a wealth of detail and activity, but she still sounded just a little bit too glamorous and smooth.  The second act was amazing, however, and the pathos that she generated, coupled with a continued attention to all of the acting demands, was tremendous.  The best I’ve seen, I think, in this most wonderful of all operatic passages.  Her third act continued in this vein, with some heartbreaking declamatory moments at, for example, ‘e tardi!‘ and ‘Gran Dio, morir si giovine…‘.  I think act two, in particular, of Traviata is more verismo than Tosca or Butterfly could ever be.
Calleja has a remarkably strong voice which was effortless listening, with good shading even if the acting wasn’t quite as full-on as his co-star.  One blog noted that “he’s a little too easily flattened by Hurricane Renee“, but the security of his voice is thrilling.  Hampson is a little more the Germont père than when last I saw/heard him, and delivered Di Provenza il Mar in a way which belied its usual mild dullness.
I was also full of admiration for Pappano’s conducting and the orchestral playing:  a red-blooded account of the score that struck me as more exciting, more nuanced than I’ve heard since Solti conducted the premiere of this production.  We’ll miss him when he moves on…!
And we get to see it again next Friday.  So indulgent…
And the other treat?  Dame Felicity Lott in Fallen Women & Virtuous Wives on DVD.  An odd project, seemingly, involving some enthusiastic patrons who have invited the great lady to their country pad and video’d the show she did for the Wigmore Hall (and on tour).  It’s an odd setting, with no audience and each number fading out at the end, so it has a surreal stagey quality which is not entirely unsuited to the content.  There’s also a different frock for nearly every number, from simple empire lines to accompany Wapping Old Stairs and Haydn, through to dramatically art deco numbers for Coward and Weill.  It is recorded at a low volume, which is a bit frustrating, but this is a minor carp when the quality of the performances are considered.  I have to confess to being somewhat partisan when it comes to Lott, I think she’s utterly wonderful.  There is something of real pathos in her style and a really direct simplicity, which this DVD just enhances.  I love her doing Noël Coward – anyone who brings his work to greater attention is a star in my book – as well as her way of changing the mood at the appropriate moment in, for example, Was bekam die Soldaten Weib.  Thoroughly recommended.  Haven’t watched the accompanying documentary about Sussex yet but looking forward to it…