Newsday, February 7, 2006
Verdi: La Traviata, Metropolitan Opera House, February 2006
A headstrong, yet extraordinary Violetta
Talented, beautiful and breathtakingly stupid in her public pronouncements, soprano Angela Gheorghiu may be opera's most maddening star.

Gheorghiu seems to spend more time in recording studios than in theaters, though she is one of her generation's most enthralling stage animals. A thoughtful and cultivated musician, she too often sings alongside her husband, tenor Roberto Alagna, who is not half the artist that she is. As celebrated for her pique as for her voice, with the darkness and sheen of a black pearl, Gheorghiu was to have starred as Violetta in Franco Zeffirelli's 1998 Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi's "La Traviata," but withdrew following
an inane dispute over designs.

Gheorghiu deigned to let New York see and hear her Violetta at the Met Saturday night, and it is a portrayal that would triumph even in the most dismal surroundings. She can convey complex emotional states through sound alone. The keening, blade-like thrusts of her high notes in "Sempre libera" tell of a sick woman's wounds and desperate hunger for life. "Dite alla giovine" is a whispery, tear-drenched thread of sound, painful to overhear. Without sacrificing tonal or musical integrity, Gheorghiu gives her every utterance in the opera's final scene the cast of a whimper or gasp, the glimmer of her veiled timbre flickering like a dying flame.

Though she indulges in some scenery chewing during the encounters at Violetta's country house, Gheorghiu is a superb actress. Her performance abounds in telling details: a fluttery restlessness even in repose at Violetta's soirée; terror and disbelief when Alfredo declares his love for her; a sad, distracted little wave when her guests depart.

Quibbles? Gheorghiu sings florid music well but without the ultimate degree of fastidiousness. She cannot or will not follow a conductor's beat-"Sempre libera" nearly turned into a train wreck, and she tends to barrel onward at her own pace, heedless of her colleagues. Still, as a complete portrayal of one of opera's greatest roles, her Violetta is an extraordinary achievement.

The Met's "Traviata" features two prodigiously loud singers alongside Gheorghiu. Making his company debut as Alfredo, tenor Jonas Kaufmann is a dashing young man with a dark, throaty, not especially supple voice that he shades with care. He brings impetuous fire to a role that can sometimes pass for a Milquetoast, and there is a thrilling erotic undercurrent to his clash with Violetta at Flora's party.

Anthony Michaels-Moore is a hardhearted Germont, shrinking back in distaste when Violetta asks him for a fatherly embrace. At its best, in "Di Provenza," his singing combines a beautiful legato line, verbal point and admirable finesse.

Franco Zeffirelli's production remains as pointlessly cluttered as ever.

Marco Armiliato presides over a performance marred by bad old cuts and the untidiness that comes from being up against a diva determined to have her own way.

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