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New Violettas: Angela Gheorghiu

available at Amazon
Verdi, La Traviata, A. Gheorghiu, R. Vargas, La Scala, L. Maazel

(re-released on September 30, 2008)
Arthaus Musik 101343
This has been a time for new Violettas, with more productions and DVDs of La Traviata than we could possibly take in. We reviewed Elizabeth Futral at Washington National Opera, but in recent months there have also been Ailyn Pérez and Anna Netrebko in San Francisco, Reneé Fleming in Los Angeles and London, and also this summer, Mary Dunleavy at Glimmerglass and Patrizia Ciofi at the Chorégies d'Orange. Most of these, like most productions of La Traviata, are set in the 19th century, with glamorous gowns and jewels and sumptuous Parisian homes as the backdrop. This is true to the letter of Verdi's intentions for the opera: against his wishes, the first Venetian performances of the opera were backdated to the 17th century, because a historical prostitute was less likely to trigger the backlash from the censors. Verdi wanted the setting to be his own time, a dream that was not realized until a 1906 production at La Scala, according to the Verdi biographer Mary Jane Philips-Matz.

Is it more faithful to Verdi's intentions to continue to set productions in the 1850s or to update the opera to our own time? The Robert Carsen production for the reopening of the Teatro La Fenice, which updated the story to Las Vegas in the 1970s, may have gone too far, but something felt quite right about the famous production with Anna Netrebko in Salzburg. This classic staging from La Scala is the former rather than the latter, with traditional but gorgeous sets by Dante Ferretti and glamorous Romantic era costumes by Gabriella Pescucci. Angela Gheorghiu, whose voice can apparently heal the sick, is a highly reputed Violetta, who has perhaps worn thin a bit by the time of this 2007 performance, the fioriture gone a little flaccid and the Italian tinged with eastern colors ("Amami, Alfrado!"), but the high notes and dramatic power still in place. Her Alfredo, Ramón Vargas, is well matched vocally, a heroic tenor, although closeups are kind to neither singer.

Gheorghiu is an elegant, thoughtful Violetta, not at all frivolous but flirting dangerously with an over-emoting style of acting especially in the third act. Roberto Frontali is a glowering Germont, the voice more solid on the bottom than the top, but rounding out a strong ensemble of principals. It is not a particularly exciting DVD, especially with the odd set of slo-mo scenes from earlier in the opera playing during the devastating Act III prelude (video directed by Paola Longobardo) but a good performance.


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