The opera critic
by Colin Anderson
Verdi: La traviata, Royal Opera House, 14 January 2008
An altogether too healthy Violetta
Richard Eyre's production of Verdi's La traviata first opened at The Royal Opera in 1994 - and this current run is its tenth revival. And it's not a short run, either, for there are two casts and thirteen performances, the last being on February 14.

Cast B, as it is called, includes Norah Amsellem (Violetta), Charles Castronovo (Alfredo) and Mariusz Kwiecien (Germont) - the first night for this change of crew is January 30. Constant to all the performances are most of the singers taking the smaller roles as well as the maestro, Maurizio Benini (actually Paul Wynne Griffiths conducts the very final performance). And, with the familiar Prelude to Act I, it is Benini who has the opportunity to set his seal immediately on proceedings and encapsulate the whole. This happens up to a point; the strings of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House played well on this first night without suggesting that this would be a revelation from the pit. Sensitive, yes, enough to suggest 'tragic serenity,' but while Benini is supportive of the singers, and possibly too accommodating, the orchestral performance is rarely illuminating while perfectly acceptable if just a little noisy at times. I retain memory of telling clarinet solos and very suggestive pizzicatos - what a master of economy Verdi was.

Peter Manning's violin solos touched the heart - rather more than Anna Netrebko did as Violetta. Yes, she has a lovely voice and a bubbly personality, but she rarely inhabited Violetta's sorrow, illness and tragedy. She was, in short, too healthy - and although the vocalism became increasingly impressive, Act I never really took off and needed greater authority from the pit to bring things together. Netrebko's top notes gleamed flawlessly and her lower notes were warmly chesty, yet when she twirled around and had her back to the audience (such motions didn't always seem necessary) this caused dynamic changes that were arbitrary. Whatever the appeal of Netrebko is, she is not yet (here) a revealing actress and bypasses much of Violetta's despair.

Jonas Kaufmann, as Alfredo, is more characterful, both in singing and acting - and captures well Alfredo's initial concern for Violetta as well as revealing his love for her; whether he is as desperate as someone would be while gambling to restore fortune is another matter, although there is genuine pity from him in Act III when Violetta (who is first of all viewed reclined and lit by candlelight as the equally-familiar Prelude to that act sets the gloomy scene) begins to face her demise. As Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, Dmitri Hvorostovsky is outstanding - imposing and patriarchal, and touching when fully realising Violetta's predicament.

The sets are splendid, whether conveying the opulence of Violetta's house, the less palatial home that Violetta and Alfredo move to - one that is starting to ruin, anyway - or the pallor of what will be Violetta's final resting-place. The gambling-house is very snazzy and busy and if the crowd scenes are a little wooden (in movement and gesture), there is much that is 'good' to look at. There were a few accidents on this first night - Kaufmann knocked his hat off a table, Netrebko seemed to trip on her dress and a chair fell over in the gambling scene - but what would have raised the occasion was more-penetrating conducting, a Violetta that one felt real sympathy for and, overall, musical tempos and character-relationships that had well and truly arrived.

 back top