Classics Today,
Robert Levine
Verdi: La Traviata, Metropolitan Opera House, February 2006
Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, N.Y.; Feb. 7, 2006
Rumor had it seven years ago, when Franco Zeffirelli’s new “La Traviata” was supposed to open at the Met, that soprano Angela Gheorghiu did not like the production and would not be appearing in it. Then we heard that it was a scheduling, rather than a temperamental problem. Then we lost interest despite the fact that Violetta had been the role of her great triumph a few years before in Europe.

Well, Ms Gheorghiu is now back at the Met, and Tuesday was her second appearance in the Zeffirelli production. She is wearing all new, very flattering costumes made for her by Raimonda Gaetani, and she looks magnificent. In addition, some of the action has been restaged, allowing her to percolate back and forth in act one like an overactive child, or a courtesan on the make, if you will. She also is triumphant in the role.

The voice remains unique: she does not turn out bell-like, pure-sounding tones; rather, there is a fascinating, dark grain that runs through her voice which gives her expression a dramatic urgency that more “white” sounds do not offer. Her top notes ring free and bright, however, and her technique is such that one never worries about pitch. The voice is large enough to carry the pivotal “Amami, Alfredo!” in act two to a point of catharsis, her first act coloratura is clean and natural, and she can spin out long, soft lines effectively. Her reaction to the humiliation in the Gambling Scene is palpable and her final act is properly touching. She may not have the intensity of a Callas or Scotto as a singer, but everything she does seems right for her; she moves through the role with assurance.

In his debut role at the Met, German tenor Jonas Kaufmann was more than impressive. He is young, slim and handsome, and the voice is a grand instrument, rich, and full, with an appealing "ping" to his high notes. He sings fearlessly and acts well, paying attention to his colleagues as if he means it. He came to grief at the close of his second act cabaletta with a cracked high C, but otherwise was a fine, ardent, if not quite Italianate Alfredo. Anthony Michaels-Moore as Germont, too, may be lacking the ultimate in juicy, Verdian sound, but he presents a good, gruff portrait of Alfredo’s difficult father and sings with admirable legato. The remainder of the cast is very in-the-moment. Conductor Marco Armiliato leads the superb Met forces with no sappy sentimentality; his attacks are clean, his tempi fleet - nudged even faster, it seems, by Miss Gheorghiu.

And Franco Zeffirerlli’s sets are still wildly appreciated and applauded by the audience, their opulence untouched by time. The third act makes use of the Met’s elevator, moving the action, mid-act, from Violetta’s bedroom to the main floor of her house, the same as the party scene in the first act. The fact that a woman in Violetta's condition shouldn’t be shlepping up and down stairs apparently doesn’t matter – if you’ve got stage machinery, flaunt it. And if you've got a cast like this, present "Traviata."


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