Natalie Dessay (Violetta, center) and cast in La Traviata, Santa Fe Opera, 2009 (photo by Ken Howard)
Not surprisingly, Dessay's voice has not been the same since undergoing surgery to repair vocal nodes. The tone has more complexity while the stunning stratospheric possibilities have contracted slightly (there were a few clicks of empty air in some of the high notes on Tuesday night), meaning that Dessay has moved away from the coloratura roles of her earlier career into other music, like her relatively successful foray into Bach this year on disc. Whatever anyone may have thought about Dessay's voice, it was never going to be an ideal Violetta, without more real power at the top and some general meat on the bones in the middle and low ranges, too.
Laurent Naouri (Germont) and Natalie Dessay (Violetta) in La Traviata, Santa Fe Opera, 2009 (photo by Ken Howard)
Perhaps to go with this characterization, director Laurent Pelly and his team created a minimalistic, even drab staging. Chantal Thomas's set consisted of countless, haphazardly arranged metallic gray rectangular slabs (packing boxes? sarcophagi?), connected by staircases of various sizes as in an Escher drawing. Overall it was ascetically sparse, serving as both party scene and, covered with drop clothes, the shuttered apartment for the final act, while a swath of green grass brought in from one side evoked the country home of the second act. Even the costumes, by Pelly and associate designer Jean-Jacques Delmotte, were mostly starved of color, after the flapper hot pink in which Dessay opened the opera, with a memorable ululation recalling an Offenbach can-can girl (or, because of the bright orange hair, Cyndi Lauper just wanting to have fun). It was a far cry from the Pelly team's previous outings at Santa Fe, a technocolor Platée in 2007 and a luxurious, fairy-tale Cendrillon in 2006.
Natalie Dessay (Violetta) at the conclusion of La Traviata, Santa Fe Opera, 2009 (photo by Ken Howard)
George Loomis, Santa Fe Opera, New Mexico (Financial Times, August 10)
Scott Cantrell, 'La traviata' refreshed but disjointed at Santa Fe Opera (Dallas Morning News, August 7)
Lawrence A. Johnson, Hyperactive Dessay upstages Violetta in soprano’s “Traviata” debut (South Florida Classical Review, August 7)
Allan Kozinn, Heroines Sing Amid a Landscape of Boxes and an Egg of a Temple (New York Times, August 6)
Anne Midgette, In Santa Fe, Concepts Without Connections (Washington Post, July 27)
Kyle MacMillan, "La Traviata" triumphs in Santa Fe (Denver Post, July 12)
Photo Journal: Dessay and Pirgu Star in Santa Fe Traviata (Playbill Arts, July 9)
John Stege, L'Amour to La Morte (Santa Fe Reporter, July 8)
Mike Silverman, Dessay takes on Verdi's Violetta for 1st time (Associated Press, July 6)
Craig Smith, 'La Traviata' opens SFO season with power, passion (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 4)
In so many ways it was a quiet, even gentle La Traviata, which might disappoint someone who loves a more conventional version of this opera. The whole experience, staging and music, had a veiled, ambiguous quality I associate less with La Traviata than with something like Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (speaking of which, I am putting in my request for Dessay to bring her recently acquired Mélisande to Santa Fe, which last mounted it in the 1970s). Even the shattering ending of the opera was deadened emotionally by having all of the other characters back quietly off stage as Violetta began her final speech, her brain starved of oxygen and making her believe that she is well again. As she sang out her final high note, Violetta collapsed on the stage, alone in death.
This production of La Traviata will be repeated five more times at Santa Fe Opera, through August 29. At the final three performances (August 22 to 29) Anthony Michaels-Moore replaces Laurent Naouri as Germont and Nicholas Pallesen fills in as Baron Douphol.