Verdi: La Traviata, Metropolitan Opera House, February 2006
A Violetta to Conquer the Scenery
The Metropolitan Opera had Angela Gheorghiu in mind when it put together its present production of "La Traviata" eight years ago. Franco Zeffirelli was brought in to do one of his opulent designer jobs on the Verdi favorite, but in rehearsals what operatic diplomats like to call "artistic differences" sent Ms. Gheorghiu on her way. Replacement strategies were visited by bad health and bad luck, and in the end this "Traviata" was sent out into the world resembling (as I wrote at the time) the aftermath of a neutron bomb attack: the gorgeous structures intact but not much human action going on inside them.
Having Ms. Gheorghiu back on Saturday night doing her supercharged star turn as Violetta did a lot to legitimize Mr. Zeffirelli's immodesty. If his interiors devour the attention of operagoers - and if his hopeless infatuation with the Met's stage elevator insists on creating unnecessary and diversionary scene changes - he can be countered only by singing personalities large enough to stand up to his upscale world. When Renée Fleming did the part here in 2003, minute-by-minute, microscopic attention to Violetta's fragile emotional state never quite compensated for a voice, however lovely, that sounded underpowered for so big a part in so big a house.

Ms. Gheorghiu throws herself admirably into the same role but never loses her head. What penetrates is not so much the size of the voice as the dramatic energy that pushes it out from within. She has youthful good looks, moves well and is a meticulous actor as well as a good musician. I like the way she pushes tempos forward in Act II. Anthony Michaels-Moore as Germont and the evening's admirable young conductor, Marco Armiliato, did not always quite keep up, but washed away were the dangerous excesses of sentimentality in a part so crowded with sentiment in the first place.

The Met greeted a new tenor as Alfredo: Jonas Kaufmann, a young German with a beautifully constructed voice, suspect perhaps in its upper reaches but otherwise filling the house nicely with an unforced clarity. Mr. Kaufmann approaches every musical detail and theatrical nuance with great care; he also looks good next to Mr. Zeffirelli's ravishing furniture and clouded mirrors. I hope I'm not being unfair in finding something clinical in the completeness of his performance.

Mr. Michaels-Moore was blunt and aggressive to a fault, as if mistrusting his ability to project in large spaces. John Hancock, tall and imposing as Baron Douphol, made a strong impression. Diane Elias, Leann Pantaleo, Earle Patriarco, LeRoy Lehr and Eduardo Valdes took other parts. Kristine McIntyre was this year's stage director, and Maria Benitez the choreographer. Solo dancers were Sara Erde, Desiree Sanchez Meineck and Griff Braun.

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