La traviata matinee (ROH, 30 April 2014)
- Violetta Valéry: Diana Damrau
- Alfredo Germont: Francesco Demuro
- Giorgio Germont: Dmitri Hvorostovsky
- Baron Douphol: Michel de Souza
- Doctor Grenvil: Jihoon Kim
- Flora Bervoix: Nadezhda Karyazina
- Marquis D’Obigny: Jeremy White
- Gastone de Letorières: Luis Gomes
- Annina: Sarah Pring
- Giuseppe: Neil Gillespie
- Messenger: John Bernays
Conductor: Dan Ettinger | Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House
What a sentimental opera! Act III, dear, dear… not a dry eye in the house but plenty of dry throats… But before things get all sobby, there’s the party in Act I and the drinking song everybody knows and most love.
You may or may not know, you may or may not care, but there’s been a tube strike going on in London. Initially I thought about getting a ticket for 9 May but then I decided for a middle of the run show and here we are. Long story short, it takes me 30min door to door if I get to ROH via tube. Without the tube I allowed for 1 1/2 hours. Which wasn’t enough, mainly because the bus I needed to take instead was – for some unknown and highly annoying reason – not stopping at my stop (although it normally does). That aside from all buses being wildly off ETA… I definitely did not want to miss Act I, as it’s my favourite, the one where things are fun and sensual. It’s all downhill from there. I bit the bullet and got a cab from my local.
I was in such a hurry I only reaslised I had forgot to eat something by the time the lights went down. Luckily, Act I is short. The slips were full as usual and only the most expensive floor seats were empty.
ROH is re-running this production which is as traditional as it gets but tasteful so no harm done. Initially it was going to go until 9 May but I see it’s got another month or so with up-and-coming singers. Now I like La traviata but I’m not cookoo over it. I can take it or leave it and I decided to take it for Damrau’s sake. Like I said in the first paragraph, there’s a bit too much heart-string pulling in the libretto. Who needs a whole act just to expire? Luckily, it’s coupled with beautiful vocal music. With the right singers it’s worth it. You might think Damrau ain’t never looked consumptive and that’s true. But Damrau is also one of my favourite singing actors. She really gets her characters and gets into her characters and I like her vivacity.
The overture is all right and it went all right, quite softly. Then the party scene started and vivacious Damrau made the most of it with her flirtatious acting. Maestro gave her some nice support when she sent everybody away and was left alone. The subsequent scene where Violetta and Alfredo get better acquainted was very well done. Demuro deployed truly sexy singing and there was mad chemistry there between him and Damrau. Excellent job! I believed Alfredo loved Violetta and she was falling for him. E strano!/ Follie! was very well acted. I loved how Damrau used coloratura to actually express emotion – being unsettled and pulled towards Alfredo – and not just show off her chops. She also managed some impressive messa di voce during this act.
When I watched the original production with Fleming1 I had the feeling Fleming was just singing Violetta. Although maybe not spot on with the age – Violetta is very young, right? I read the novel recently and I think I’m more familiar with it than with the actual libretto – Damrau was better at portraying a young, (on the surface) carefree woman. That came through in the bit where she pours herself a drink and then throws the bottle away. With Fleming it was rather acted. Damrau looked like she enjoyed herself. You could say Violetta is overdoing it a bit but I think she’s also a playful woman at heart.
Act I ended to both regret and joy. Regret because my favourite part came to an end, joy because I could run over to Benugo’s and scarf down some lunch. Transit madness aside, today was a beautiful, balmy day.
Demuro continued his intelligent, sensitive singing in Act II. Then Alfredo conveniently ran off to Paris so that Violetta and Old Germont could face-off. Hvorostovsky comes off as a bit of a git in interviews but he’s a dead-on Old Germont – just annoying enough but not hateful. I thought about choosing a show with Keenleyside over him but I’m glad I went with him. He did a bang-on job. His voice is perfect for the role and I actually liked his softer approach. There’s a tendency to overdo the recit and make him truly unpleasant and then to belt the hell out of Di Provenza. He did neither. Di Provenza – one of my favourite arias, simple as it is – was delivered very softly and persuasively. I was able to put myself in his position, as traditionalist as it is. A father ought to look out for his children the best he can. He’s prejudiced, yes, but so was the whole society back then. There was no winning for Violetta. Their interaction was truly moving, although it was here that Damrau’s Violetta did not come off as very young. She understood a little too well about growing old and losing her beauty. But she did well with the very sentimental bit about Old Germont’s daughter for whose happiness she’s supposed to sacrifice hers. Sisterhood, eh? I believed Violetta was the gold-hearted ho the libretto sells us.
The subsequent party scene was entertaining enough, although whenever there are too many people on stage I get a bit confused. Alfredo made himself look like an arse when he threw chips at Violetta, his dad – who seemed to be stalking him – played the gentleman and Violetta the dignified victim. Maestro was generally singer-friendly although in a couple of more dramatic places the orchestra got a bit loud. It’s not the most extravagant score – let the singers lead, belcanto-style – so not a lot to be said there.
Act III started with Violetta in bed. Even before she began coughing there were sympathetic coughs from the audience. See what I mean when I say the public is right there with you? Few had coughed before and the music wasn’t loud enough to cover them had they done so but all of a sudden everybody got the chills. Somebody’s phone went off right at the beginning of Addio, del passato, luckily the ringtone rather blended in with Verdi’s music.
Damrau did her best but this act is truly ridiculous, how she’s coughing her lungs out, she’s so weak she can’t stand, the doctor says she’s got but hours to go, but she’s beltier than in Act I – and she skips around deliriously. Don’t start me on the continuous laments and vivid description of how all is at the end, how she won’t even get a marked grave etc. I mean, yes, I get that she’s been waiting in vain, but a whole act dedicated to her misery? Talk about milking it. What came off truly poignant was e tardi! after Violetta read Old Germont’s apology letter. Damrau was so dead-on I teared up on the spot. In a sense it was good that the wrap-up is so neat and lame – everybody is sad and remorseful that they allowed the woman with the heart of gold to die of grief – otherwise I might have had a hard time putting a stop to the waterworks.
It was a good show, excellent singing and acting but I think I’m done with La traviata for the next 5-10 years. So next week it’s back to Wolfie and his Nozze.
- Although there was a Fleming DVD of this production, it appears it premiered with Angela Gheorghiu in the title role? Well, if that is so, I did not know at the time I wrote this post… ↩