Bloomberg,  July 20 2007
James Amott
Verdi: La Traviata, Milano, July 2007
Soprano Gheorghiu Rises Above the Boos at La Scala 'Traviata'
Angela Gheorghiu, the Romanian soprano married to Roberto Alagna, the French tenor who famously stormed off stage mid-performance at La Scala in December after being booed by a vicious claque, rose above it all after getting the same treatment in "La Traviata.''

The 41-year-old is making her debut as Violetta at the Milan opera house, and copious shouts of "brava'' quickly drowned out a few vicious boos after her aria "Addio del Passato'' in the third act. She clearly won over the majority at La Scala.

This staging of "La Traviata,'' a Verdi weepie showing love conquers all, also features German tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Alfredo Germont and 65-year-old Italian baritone Leo Nucci as his father. The great Verdi operas guarantee full houses in Milan, and La Scala was packed with spruced up, perfumed music fans.

The 1853 opera tells of Alfredo's love for Violetta, a courtesan ill with consumption, and how she abandons her lifestyle to live with him. His father begs her to give up Alfredo for the sake of family honor, and Violetta makes the sacrifice. A wounded Alfredo insults her but he subsequently learns why she left him and they are briefly reunited before her slow, melodramatic death.

The sets by Dante Ferretti and the lighting and costumes, originally from a 1990 production by Liliana Cavani refreshed by Marina Bianchi, are stunning and lavish, placing the action in the mid-1800s. Act 1 opens in the enormous courtyard of a Paris mansion on a summer night, a perfect setting for the revelers to sing the famous toast.

Energetic Gypsies

The opening set is surpassed in the second act by a golden ballroom complete with paintings and red drapes. The colorful costumes and the energy that conductor Lorin Maazel draws from the performers make the "Gypsy Chorus'' one of the highlights.

The stars are the right age and attractive, and the chemistry works. Gheorghiu has mastered the role, acting her socks off. Her voice is agile, effortlessly produced and bright, though she was sometimes drowned out by Kaufmann and the orchestra. Gheorghiu's voice has a slight wobble that isn't always pretty.

Still, it was great to see a beautiful soprano without bingo wings and I particularly liked her Tim Henman-style fist-pumping celebrations of being in love in the first act.

Big Voice

Kaufmann, born in 1969, has a large voice gifted with a range of colors. He sounded like a rich baritone in the aria "De Miei Bollenti Spiriti,'' and then produced a sweet, high lyric tenor during the duets. In moments of anger he was a thrilling dramatic tenor, reminiscent of the great Franco Corelli.

Nucci, hero-worshipped in Milan in a way normally reserved for great tenors, received cheers and applause for an embarrassingly long time after the aria "Di Provenza Il Mar Il Suol.'' He only narrowly escaped having to sing the piece again. The role isn't large and it was a stroll in the park for him.

The most disappointing side of the show was the stage direction, which let the singers down. Gheorghiu spent too much time warbling into Kaufmann's bushy hair and the singers were often obscured by someone walking in front of them. There was also bad pretend drinking and reading during an aria, and I found it strange that Alfredo had a massive billiard table in his bedroom.

"La Traviata'' is at La Scala, Milan, through tomorrow.

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