OperaUK, March 2008
La traviata
Royal Opera at Covent Garden, January 17 and 29
Having won most critical hearts and minds on the first night of the Royal Opera’s revival, Anna Netrebko succumbed to bronchitis, leaving a swarm of disgruntled patrons in the foyers before the start of the second night. She was not to return until her last two scheduled performances, but Covent Garden moved swiftly to supply an excellent replacement in Ermonela Jaho. The Albanian soprano was understandably cautious at first, and nerves perhaps accounted for a slight wobble in the middle of her voice initially, but she quickly warmed to her task and delivered smooth, cultivated singing. Floating beautiful lines in Acts 2 and 3, she portrayed a sincere and vulnerable woman— more moving than some of the officially cast Violettas to have occupied this production. The performance was also distinguished by Jonas Kaufmann’s intelligently sung and acted Alfredo: dark-toned rather than thrillingly Italianate, but musically rewarding, he made a more than usually introverted and brooding lover. Bringing his trademark seamless line to ‘Di Provenza’. Dmitry Hvorostovsky was a smug and self-satisfied Germont, and really rather boring. He did seem to want to move the tempos along, though, and was largely resisted by Maurizio Benini, who managed a more lively account of the score on January 29. Among the smaller parts, the Jette Parker Young Artists Monika-Evelin Liiv and Ji-Min Park made positive contributions as Flora and Gastone.

Netrebko’s return to health signalled an exciting performance: she certainly enlivened the Richard Eyre production (revived by Patrick Young), and is the first Violetta not to do the staging’s final ‘lap of honour’. Her death scene was stronger for it, free of generalized histrionics, yet it was not the most affecting. The Russian diva’s previous appearances at Covent Garden have been in lighter roles (Servilia, Donna Anna and Gilda), and it was very noticeable that her voice has grown bigger; Tosca can’t be far off. She sang her heart out, supplying plenty of colour and temperament. Her coloratura was fearless, though not immaculate. A starry performer, but not a truly great Violetta, she lacks the aura that Angela Gheorghiu had when the production was new back in 1994. This time, Hvorostovsky called in sick, and was replaced by Andrzej Dobber (Glyndebourne’s Macbeth last summer). The Polish baritone has a fine voice, if not as smooth as that of his Russian colleague, but he was far more involved in Germont’s character, projecting his anguish in a way that changed the dynamic of the performance. I hope the audience appreciated him: it can’t be easy to make a Covent Garden debut when everyone has come for Netrebko.

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