Cher Public

Un soggetto dell’epoca

“With one of my favorite opera productions returning to the Met tonight, I’ve been considering lately what makes Willy Decker‘s Traviata so fine, so satisfying, and so worth a return visit.” [Musical America]

  • zinka

    Domingo sings, “La cena e pronta”…at least he can sing ONE tenor role…

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Prediction: Damrau will perform as best she can and still leave the majority of the audience unmoved.

    • Yeah. They’ll probably sit there in stony silence. I bet they won’t even applaud.

  • jrance

    Ordinary triumphs again.

    • Wow, is it Friday already? This daylight savings shit really fucks me up.

      • Jack Jikes

        I will not recover until Nov. 3rd. An hour sliced off my life

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      If she’s very good, maybe Damrau can take her shtick to the Oamaru.

      • messa di voce

        Enlighten us: what’s her schtick?

  • A problem arises (certainly for me) when the production is set neither in the time the composer specified (and the libretto often requires) nor in the value-neutral (!) present, but in some historical time chosen at random because the costumes were colorful (I’m thinking of the famous Central Park “Much Ado” set c.1910 or a Canadian “Troilus” I saw set in the American Civil War) or, in operatic cliche, in the time of the composer. Or the Met’s current ghastly Lucia with its sight-gags of a wedding photographer and a doctor administering injections, set fifty years AFTER the composer’s day — why? Or the far from neutral and utterly inane Met Sonnambula. Or Peter Sellars’ Don Giovanni, where I could never figure out what all these upper or middle class white characters were doing in the South Bronx, and nothing about the production impelled me to forget that, or his Figaro in Trump Tower, where I kept wondering why Cherubino, Figaro and Susanna didn’t just quit working for the Count. “Because we have to finish the opera to get paid” didn’t work for me as a motivation. And too often it is the only one that seems significant.

    Now let’s take a production of the Ring. ANY production of the Ring. Say, Wadsworth’s in Seattle — where Valhalla seemed to be a sand castle on the forest floor, the gods looming OVER it. Okay. And the Hundings lived in a tiny hut down front, and in Act II, Wotan and Fricka (evidently the social worker) met there to try to save the Hundings’ marriage. The trouble was — how did they fit a wedding feast (never mind a crasher waving a sword) in a hut that small? The singing was great, but I couldn’t get that inane image out of my mind. I really LIKED the Rochaix Ring in Seattle, where the Hundings lived in a house full of desk chairs and Sieglinde seemed utterly defeated as she kept moving them about, never even noticing Siegmund until he began to tell the story of his life. (Fricka in Minna Wagner’s flowered hat was good in that production too.)

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is: These things are seldom as neutral as all that, and inane questions really should not arise. They didn’t, for example, in the Met’s recent Parsifal, which I adored. Everything related to the story, even Parsifal’s boots. But that’s what I often don’t get in updated stagings: Some notion that the director has pondered what the composer was trying to create. Too often, it seems the director is trying to ignore the music and piss on the libretto. I don’t really see the point of that. It’s all me, me, me, and I’d rather hear the singers if egomania is to bloom on the opera stage.

    • Well, the difference here is between “updated” (which implies at least some specific period detail as a signifier of the era chosen) and “modern” which ideally avoids that sort of detail. For example: nobody in this Traviata has a cell phone, nobody watches a big-screen TV, nobody drives a late-model car. Same idea in the Parsifal. Those office chairs might have been from 1950 or they might be from 30 years from now; we recognize them as being a familiar part of our everyday world, but not so specifically dated a part that we are forced to consider, “but if this is happening in 2008, then…”

      Updating in general, it seems to me, is very played out. Who cares if Le nozze di Figaro is relocated from 1778 (or 1786) to 1820, or, for that matter, to 1920?

      An exception to this rule, such as it is, I would extend to the Alden Ballo at the Met, because it was very clearly not supposed to be a realistic depiction of any sort of period, rather a sort of dream of the glamorous recent past.

      • ianw2

        I agree that the world hardly needs another Jazz Age Handel, mafioso Verdi or 1950s bel canto comedy. I’ve often wondered when the trend for retro-dating operas will kick in.

        Give me a Figaro set in Egypt’s Middle Kingdom!

        • Would you settle for Cosi?

          Or Magic Flute?

        • Porgy Amor

          ianw2: NIXON IN CHINA set during the Crusades!

          • ianw2

            OH MY GOD YES.

          • LittleMasterMiles

            Well, obviously.

          • antikitschychick

            that’s actually a great idea lol also, brava for your fab piece in MA Cieca! Really enjoyed reading it :-D

      • Porgy Amor

        I haven’t given up on the idea of updating to a specific period, because I do still see it done well. It can give something an attractive look if the designers are good, and I will meet the director halfway and overlook details that give momentary pause. Carsen often does very period-suggestive updating well, as in ROSENKAVALIER and TRAVIATA, but I’ll specifically single out the CAPRICCIO he set around the time of the composition. It was a notably lovely show, so I wasn’t going to get too stuck on the improbability of those people in their 1940s clothes and coifs excitedly discussing the latest by Gluck. (Cox’s at the Met was in the 1920s and was less of the same.) I also just gave a fresh look to Richard Jones’s FALSTAFF, also moved to the 1940s and very nicely detailed. Jones even finds a few good laughs in it, as when Alice is about to receive Falstaff in her home and she puts the record of lute-playing on the turntable instead of actually playing one herself.

        Of course, I don’t like these productions *because* they’re updated. I like them because they’re lively and smart, and the updating is just one of the things on the canvas.

    • bluecabochon

      The Much Ado that you cite was produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1971 and debuted at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, and was so successful that it transferred to the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway. It was a beautiful production conceived by the late A. J. Antoon that starred Sam Waterston and Kathleen Widdoes, who had amazing chemistry together. You are right about the period -- it was set just pre-WWI in a small American town, with its gentle porches, ice cream colors and chinese lanterns providing a nice foil for Shakespeare’s sharp wit. Settings and costumes were by Ming Cho Lee and Theoni V. Aldredge, lighting perhaps by Tharon Musser (they worked together as a trio often) were perfect for this conception, and there was a particularly beautiful musical score, by Peter Link (?) -- it’s a stretch for my memory here. I saw this as a very young person and demanded to be taken to it a second time as well as the Broadway production. I’ve since purchased the version that was later filmed in a studio (scenery by Tom John):

      I take strong exception to this particular production cited as an idea that did not work. I’m sure that not everyone loved it (obviously), but even at a young age I had an eye to theatrical design as a career, and this show worked for me on all levels. Dogberry as a Keystone Kop was a brilliant comic stroke (RIP the wonderful Barnard Hughes). The cast was full of New York actors who appeared regularly in theatre and TV who are much missed. Over 40 years later, it’s still a vivid memory of a show that got it right and inspired my interest in Shakespeare.

      I’m not sure why you think this was an unsuccessful production and would like to read why.

      • rapt

        I remember seeing (and loving) this, too, on public (probably still “educational” then) TV. Those were the days!

      • Krunoslav

        Overall that MUCH ADO was a success-- if somewhat pleased with itself and twee-- to my junior high eyes, with the glaring exception of Glenn Walken as Claudio, who was EXECRABLE. My budding theater queen friends and I went around imitating his “Ta-nite ah’ll mawn with Hee-ro” for years.

        • bluecabochon

          I agree that Walken was the weakest link. I much prefer his brother anyway. :)

          • Hippolyte

            I remember seeing the Antoon Much Ado when I was a kid and loving it. By the way it was shown on CBS not on public television. The Much Ado I did see on PBS when I was even younger was the Zeffirelli production with Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens (then married) which I recall being wonderful as well.

          • rapt

            You are correct, Hippolyte. The moment after I wrote, I had comment remorse--began to recall that major networks did once carry such things and wondered about my recollection.

          • manou

            Comment remorse often comes after premature exclamation.

    • Wedding feasts are always, always held inside the home -- never, ever in front of or behind them.

    • ianw2

      Re Trump Tower, well why didn’t Figaro and Susanna just quit anyway?

      The droit de seigneur was already an anachronism when the piece was written, so it becomes a pretty weak hurdle to setting the piece in any period except when it still was commonplace (the 1500s?).

      The characters of Figaro and Susanna aren’t exactly indentured labourers- witness their level of interaction and access to the nobility- who could’ve sought other employment with other nobility if they had really wanted to. That they haven’t indicates a certain relationship bond with their bosses- cf the chirp ladies’ duets and Figaro’s past with Almaviva.

      The idea that people stay with terrible bosses isn’t exactly unique to the 1700s. Was it just last week that Sharon Stone was in court- again!- for allegedly abusing a domestic who didn’t just quit when the treatment got rough?

      I’m probably also the only person who didn’t mind Zimmerman’s Sonnambula, but perhaps because I already find the piece fluff I didn’t mind the distinct lack of Alpine scenery and floaty floral headpieces. My only quibble was that it was yet another show-within-a-show, which is as tired as the male chorus all being in trench-coats.

      Being worried about the square footage of the Hundings’ architecture seems to be a bit weird considering that the rest of the piece is hardly a hard hitting slice of Nordic realism.

      • Ilka Saro

        Yes, the droit du seigneur was an anachronism at the time Beaumarchais wrote the play Marriage of Figaro. This could be covered by setting it in Spain, which the French perceived as backwards and autocratic. Spain became a special place in the imaginations of many non-Spanish writers for nearly a century. There the nobles could be more honorable, or more licentious. The heroes could be more dedicated to liberty, or loyalty, or the girl, or whatever.

        • oedipe

          The Aix production of the Marriage (the one which Louannd liked so much) solved the problem in a very smart way. Almaviva is a present-day, small (French) town mayor, a philanderer with almost absolute powers over his employees -considering that their livelihood depends on the mayor’s good will. It doesn’t HAVE to be literally “le droit du seigneur”; it is sufficient that the count expects to have sex with any woman that works for him and he fancies. Quite convincing!

          • luvtennis

            I disagree, Oedipe. Surely, the point about the droit du seigneur is that it is a cultural phenomenon not simply a personal or local one. If the Count is just a sexual harasser then the countess’ forgiveness takes on a very different meaning and effect.

          • First, the “droit du seigneur” was mostly a myth.

            Second, the “banning” of this “right” in the Beaumarchais play and the da Ponte libretto is meaningless in a legal sense. Any practice of the “droit” would have falled into disuse centuries before the action of the drama. The Conte’s repudiation of this “right” is a purely symbolic gesture, what we would call today a PR stunt. He is trying to strike a pose as an enlightened despot, nothing more.

            The Conte doesn’t think he’s forcing himself on Susanna: he is so vain and self-centered that he thinks she is as attracted to him as he is to her, or rather that, since she’s a woman, how could she resist?

            This type of sexual harassment, as we would call it today, is pretty much universal: the abusive part of it is a function of an unequal power relationship.

            The mistake in doing a “modern” Figaro is trying to make it too specific, i.e., “in Trump Tower,” which only needles the audience with trivial anachronisms. A non-specific present (that is, A Household, don’t worry about what the cross street is) I think works very well for this opera.

          • oedipe

            Surely, the point about the droit du seigneur is that it is a cultural phenomenon not simply a personal or local one.

            Oh, but the production DOES refer to a cultural phenomenon. Many small town mayors in Europe are corrupt and have unchecked powers over their little local world. They even believe they have “rights” over women employees. Women in the countryside rarely sue because of harassment. I am pretty sure most of the people who saw this production interpreted it as social criticism, a satire of the OFFICE, not a personal story of unfaithfulness.

      • antikitschychick

        I also didn’t find the Zimmerman Sonnambula to be the vile filth some claim it to be; I thought overall it worked, but mostly because all of the performers were quite charming and believable…it was however, a very superficial reading of the work/opera in that it trivialized Amina’s sleepwalking condition, which made her look like a bratty teenager…this is OK reading (its a refraction of how Elvino sees her), but it’s not sufficient to create real drama…there’s a melancholy written in(to) the part of Amina that the Zimmerman rendition pretty much ignored…yes the opera has comedic/superficial elements, but to base an entire production on these temporal superficial qualities (one could always sense that the two leads would inevitably resolve the conflict that was keeping them apart a la any teenage saga) can make the other, non-superficial elements seem superfluous, which is a problem.

        • plus ça change…

        • ianw2

          I’m glad I’m not alone in the ‘it wasn’t that bad’ brigade about Sonnambula. I didn’t mind that the sleepwalking was treated frivolously, sort of as a contemporary nod to the composers and librettists and writers who treated delicate young heroine madness as something the character could dip in and out of according to their mood.

          • Porgy Amor

            SONNAMBULA is not a favorite work of mine that would bring out any protective instincts anyway, but I thought MZ’s was a good time on television. Maybe my expectations were so low that I was going to give it credit for any charm or skill it displayed at all. Or maybe the cameras helped it — I’ve thought that about some other Met productions that were not well received, such as the Doyle GRIMES. But other Met flops were bad no matter how they were seen: TOSCA (at least as it was cast when new), FAUST, DON GIOVANNI, COMTE ORY, the RING…

  • Dolciamente Pipo

    Thanks for the reminder of the Rochaix Ring. Hadn’t thought about it in awhile. It was really forward thinking. Certainly more engaging than the Dungeons and Dragons approach we have now. Having said that, the Hunding Hut didn’t bother me so much when I first saw it, but I see your point.

  • The strange thing is, if you go to the Met on certain nights (especially galas), you can see La Traviata played out. I’ve mentioned this before but the Eastern European “Natashas” can be spotted in their killer heels, slip dresses, and heavy make-up. They congregate on the Grand Tier and often smoke cigarettes together. Then they disappear back into the auditorium on the arms of an older gentleman.

    The thing is, there’s actually a huge social problem of Eastern European women being recruited (or sold) into this kind of prostitution, and I’ve read articles about it. The social chasm between “regular” women who make a “regular” living and high-end escorts is as huge as ever.

  • I must say that I had never thought of modern dress as being timeless but it is a notion that I’m willing to buy. I’m going to have to keep this in mind when viewing future productions. It’s probably important that dress not be too specific. If it references specific fashion trends, that might take away from the timeless quality. In Girard’s Parsifal, the white shirts and dark slacks that the men wore were modern without being too specific, allowing the audience to focus on the drama.

  • mercadante

    Actually, if you look at photos of singers in productions from the 1860’s on, the
    opera was almost always in a form of modern dress through at least the late Edwardian period. I believe it must have goven contemporary audiences a feeling of verisimilitude, quite a different feeling than described in the article with the use of modern dress. I liked it, i just thought the clock overstated, but I suppose one needed something on the stage

    • bluecabochon

      In the theater in the 19th century in America, actors provided their own costumes, so you can imagine the visual mishmash that must have been!

  • Avantialouie

    That’s exactly the trouble, La Cieca: I don’t WANT “La Traviata” to be myth. “The Eternal Now” often works superbly well for productions of operas in which the “mythic element” is importantly involved or is even paramount: late Wagner works, say, or works like “Orfeo ed Euridice,” “Ariadne auf Naxos,” or “Semele.” But you have confused “myth” with the very natural reading process of finding universality in any well-wrought work of fiction. And well-wrought works of fiction have a SETTING: a time and a place. Any opera-goer with an IQ over 60 is perfectly able to find universal themes in “La Traviata” all the while he is looking at elegant salons, characters with different sexual standards from his own, or a milieu in which consuption was, indeed, the “scourge of Europe.” Most regietheatre productions do NOT make operas “more relevent” to me or to “my time.” What it really does is rob me of the thoroughly pleasurable process of finding for myself the universal that transends the specifics of the work. It robs me of the ability to make discoveries about the work for myself--far more meaningful because I DID “discover” them for myself. They are MY “discoveries,” and I take ownership of these ideas in a far more meaningful and direct way because they are mine. I don’t want the “myth” in “La Traviata” to be IN the production; I want that myth to be one of my own creation based ON the production. Instead, regietheatre hands me the “concept” of the director, however clever it may be, pre-digested. I have seen the Decker production twice. My reaction both times has been “Oh, so ‘La Traviata’ is universal? Somehow I already knew.”

    • peter


    • armerjacquino

      What it really does is rob me of the thoroughly pleasurable process of finding for myself the universal that transends the specifics of the work.

      Why? How?

      My reaction both times has been “Oh, so ‘La Traviata’ is universal? Somehow I already knew

      Oh, so you already knew. So nobody’s robbed you of anything.

      • luvtennis

        Armerjacquino, without necessarily agreeing to the original premise, I think your questions are unfair. Of course there is a difference between allowing an audience to come to its own conclusions about a piece and RECEIVING a specific and often complex one from the director. Otherwise, there would not be any difference in effect between symbolism and allegory…

        • armerjacquino

          The questions ‘Why’ and How’ are ‘unfair’?

          Tough crowd.

    • steveac10

      But sometimes that director, especially if he’s a skilled one, can find things in an opera I never realized were there. It can also strip a work of the superficial trappings so I focus on the performance as a whole, not just the relative merits of singer A or costume designer B. A “traditional” production, once one gets past ogling the sets and costumes, relies entirely on the performers to make it come to life. There’s no framework beyond what they bring with them. If the performers are not at the top of their game, the result is routine -- which to me is the worst possible kind of performance.

      A truly great concept production gives the singer fresh ideas and makes a phoned in performance less likely. Even if a traditional production is well directed for its initial run, eventually routine sets in and they become concerts in costume unless a truly inspired group of principals steps in. I’ve now seen the Decker Traviata with 4 different divas (3 live), none of whom is really the ideal Violetta -- and I was still gobsmacked by the end of each performance. I’m sure I’ll be a puddle this time as well.

    • Well, I guess I am not as clever as you, or any opera-goer with an IQ over 60, because there were ideas, relationships of words and music, and emotions I have experienced at the Decker Traviata that I found in no other. Similarly with Calixto Bieito’s Parsifal and Stefan Herheim’s Rusalka: suddenly there were things in these works I “discovered” only because the production shone a spotlight on them, or, to put it another way, forced to to look at the actual work without the usual filter of period imagery and the assumption of realism.

      I have to say I find this “don’t interpret anything for me, bub” attitude both snobbish and narrow-minded. Every performance is an interpretation, and I think among the most insidious of the effects of traditional/realistic productions is the strong implicit message of “don’t worry, you already know what this piece is about.” The way it works for me is if it’s a familiar work done in a familiar way with (these days) most likely familiar interpretations, the only emotional message that can be gleaned is a kind of comforting satisfaction, the way one feels when watching a favorite movie for the 20th or 30th time: everything is just where you expect it to be.

      We may just have to disagree on this: I find interventionist opera productions very stimulating, and so it’s hard for me to imagine why they would not be so for others.

      • luvtennis

        Hey, I thought I owned the rights to “interventionist” productions.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    My apologies! Tonight Diana Damrau surpassed my every expectation and brought opera back to the MET with her truly accomplished Violetta. It was, for sure, a new level of artistry for her and a great night for those in the house and listening to the broadcast.

    • LittleMasterMiles

      That’s terrific news; I missed the webcast for an event that I thought would include a free dinner (it didn’t).

      I’ve only seen the Decker production on HD, but I think La Cieca’s point about “neutral” present-day settings is a good way of interpreting some “updated” productions, but not all. There’s a lot about the Decker production (the giant clock, the sofa carried aloft) that is anti-realist in a way that contextualizes the modern dress as neutral rather than as “today” — the old Sellars Figaro might be a good counterexample (though I haven’t watched that in years). But unless we simply feel that the Konzept of historical updating is played out tout court (as Schoenberg did not say about C major), sure this is one of those things about which blanket statements are best avoided. My first Tosca (ah, youth!) was Jonathan Miller’s production set in Nazi-occupied Rome, and it worked so well that I still have to remind myself that Puccini had been dead for 20 years by then.

      Also, Joss Whedon, surely. Though if Joss brings in Christopher Wheeldon as choreographer I’d not complain….

  • Constantine A. Papas

    Domingo committed operative malpractice tonight. No baritonal gravitas in his voice. Transposed notes, but no Verdian dramatic color. With so many baritones on the Met’s roster, this is a travesty to feed someone’s ego. Domingo is a unique artist, but if his tenor voice’s fading, he’d better quit. And the Met’s management should exercise certain degree of artistic discretion. What is next for Domingo? King Phillip’s monologue? Boris G? Or maybe the Queen of the Night!

    • OperaTeen

      Met Season 2013-2014: Starring Placido Domingo. In everything. As everyone.

    • quibbleglib

      That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that the night was an utter and complete snore-fest until Domingo appeared on the stage, and lapsed repeatedly into snore-worthy episodes whenever Domingo disappeared from it.

      For all of Damrau’s accomplished artistry — and there is much of it — and Pirgu’s dramatic investment on the stage, the voices of these two principals are about as interesting as a blank canvas. Finally in Act II when Germont entered, we heard for the first time that night a real voice — a voice that was rich, present, and full of character. And we were reminded that a voice like this does not hold merely aesthetic significance, but draws one into the drama on a level that Decker’s production, for all its thoughtfulness, cannot. Part of this is a matter of scale and the nature of an operatic performance in a large theater: as interesting as Decker’s production is, for the majority of the audience at the Met, it’s all taking place very far away. This is felt in an especially keen way for an audience reared on the cinema. A voice like Domingo’s, however, which is colorful and vibrant, and which projects, can close the physical gap between an audience and the stage. Note there are two essential qualities here. The voice must project, and it must be of a compelling and rich nature. Damrau has some of the first quality but little of the second. Pirgu has less of the first quality and very little of the second.

      Domingo’s is a voice of the old school, when tonal quality was viewed as an important facet of an artist and held as something worth working for. There is a reason why audiences applauded his entrance last night, and it’s not nostalgia. He gives us something that’s vital and that, today, is unique. It is something that the “many baritones”on the Met’s roster could surely learn from.

      • The responses to last night’s Traviata are all over the place. QPF loved Dramrau (after predicting that it wouldn’t be a great success for her). And I just read on another site (from a poster who can be quite picky) that he thought that it was one of the best he’s ever heard.

      • Porgy Amor

        What a great post about PD’s Germont, quibbleglib. I’ve given the Decker production a few chances and decided that it just isn’t for me. I’ve liked many TRAVs more, across the whole spectrum of traditional-to-Regie. Of course, neither Rizzi nor Luisi got playing at the level I was expecting from their respective orchestras, and no Violetta I’ve yet heard or seen in it was up to all the demands of the music, however well they wore the dress (and Dessay just should not have been singing that day). But you made me wish I could see it with the current cast and conductor. Too bad they didn’t wait until this season for the HD.

  • Andie Musique

    I am a fan of the Decker production. I have discussed it with David McVicar, and also a talented Met staff director who both love it. What the three of us agree on is that we have never heard Verdi’s music more clearly. This production does not get in the way of the music. So many of them do.

    • bassoprofundo

      um. right.

    • fidelio101

      Maybe all operas should be sung as concerts? Then you wouldn’t have to worry about a garish set. You could just sit there for three hours wondering who picked out the diva’s inappropriate gown. lol

  • WindyCityOperaman

    I’ve been going to opera productions for over four decades. There isn’t anything that I haven’t seen or heard. I really don’t give a damn what any variety of “modern day” directors, designers, or for that matter critics say or think. Traviata will NEVER be a chick in a red mini dress with an analog clock on the wall.

    • armerjacquino

      Not for you, maybe. But I’d say this production gets closer to the heart of the work than any other I’ve seen.

      And how blinkered to dismiss an entire production because you don’t like a frock or a detail of the set.

      • peter

        The problem is it’s not a small detail. All the details in this production are big and obvious. It’s hard to ignore them. They hit you over the head repeatedly.

      • jrance

        The ‘problem’ with this and so many opera productions these days is: you could stage virtually any opera with these sets and costumes, from Monteverdi to DUTCHMAN to VANESSA or LULU. It has no sense of being about La Dame aux Camellias unless you know that’s what it’s about. It could just as well be Tosca or Carmen or Isolde moving about these sets and wearing the dress…it would be clever of Gelb to have another opera staged on these sets but of course purists would balk.

        • armerjacquino

          you could stage virtually any opera with these sets and costumes

          Well, yes. You could stage any opera with any sets and costumes. What matters is the bit that comes next.

        • steveac10

          Hell up until the 20’s (and beyond)the singers used their own costumes and sets and chorus costumes were endlessly recycled. There was ancient, medieval, renaissance etc and except for the great divas of the day the costumes were rarely role specific. Give them a few weeks and a staff director could stage Fledermaus using the Zeff Traviata sets from act 2 for the first 2 acts and use the lower level jail set from his Tosca for act 3. It also wouldn’t be a stretch to stage Forza with the current Trovatore production or just about any Renaissance set opera with bits and pieces of the Romeo et Juliette production (Rigoletto comes to mind). The Met used to repurpose stuff constantly during the 30’s and 40’s.

          Anyway, Traviata may be one of the worst examples to use for messing with period -- because the producers moved the time back 100 years when it was originally staged.

          • I remember reading about a Royal Opera production of Manon Lescaut improvised of bits of their production of the Massenet version of the story, plus the Walkurenfels standing in for Louisiana.

            And I worked a production of Carmelites in college in which the de la Force family lived in the Ca d’oro, and the back wall of the convent at Compiègne was labeled “Sound of Music, Act 1, Scene 3.”

    • ianw2

      That’s funny, because I spoke to Verdi today and he happens to love it.

  • Having watched the PBS broadcast of the Decker Traviata with Dessay/Polenzani/Hvorostovsky, I admit to being a bit disappointment. It’s a visually striking and dramatically engaging production but it didn’t live up to the hype for me. Maybe it had to do with Dessay who can be a wonderfully moving artist but who doesn’t seem interested in establishing chemistry with her colleagues (at this stage of her career anyway; I found her similarly disengaged in the DVD with Castronovo). I’m sure it was better with Netrebko and Villazon. Still, the production wasn’t quite the revelation for me that I had hoped.

    • armerjacquino

      Watch the DVD of Netrebko and Villazon. They BURN. It’s the only time it’s ever been clear to me how dangerous that relationship is.

      • armerjacquino

        Re: dangerous relationships…

        That’s just made me think of the single most thrilling moment of filmed opera I’ve ever seen- the hungry look Scotto as Giorgetta gives Luigi before the Belleville duet. It’s an extraordinary piece of acting: you watch it and you think ‘Uh-oh, these two are SCREWED’.

        • You mean right at the end of the duet? I’ve posted this clip many times before. It’s one of my favourite pieces of singing/acting. Scotto is just so good here.

          • Jack Jikes

            Realism and stylization are in a stunning balance. How often do sung words have such an impact. Only a very few have matched such artistry.

          • Feldmarschallin

            My God Scotto is amazing here. Both vocally and actingwise she is absolutely stunning. I always like early Scotto (60’s) but she is in incredible voice and the role fits perfectly. Thank you for posting this clip.

        • MontyNostry

          That clip is really stunning. I must have watched it at least 6 or 7 times over the last couple of years, and each time it completely grabs me. It is also one of the reasons I found the Richard Jones production in London so disappointing. There, Giorgetta, as played by Westbroek, was a bit of a blowsy nebech and she and Luigi had to sing the duet section with a great big (no doubt) symbolic gap between them.

          • Feldmarschallin

            After you hear that clip you think no one can sing it like that. The diction, the high C which she hurls out, the acting or better said the fulfillment of the role. She is not acting Giorgetta but IS Giorgetta. Every movement is perfect.

      • AJ: Yeah, I’ve been mighty impressed by clips of the original Netrebko/Villazon DVD (on youtube) that I’ve seen. I should also add that a TV broadcast isn’t the same as experiencing a production in the theatre.

        • Polenzani and (yes, despite vocal shortcomings) Poplavskaya were also riveting in the production. After years of feeling numbed to Traviata by too many hearings and too many times sitting through the overstuffed Zeffirelli, I cried in the last act. I don’t feel much like getting into the debate, but mine is another vote staunchly in favor of Decker and his approach.

        • brunettino

          I predict the Salzburg Sempre Libera w/ Netrebko and Villazon will be looked at for decades on as defining what Regie could do in the aughts and teens. It is completely riveting, even for one such as I who is not even sure if I like the whole production — but seriously — that’s a wow, wow, wow for that scene alone.

    • Milady DeWinter

      Maybe not a complete revelation, but the idea of Violetta’s doom (and Mssr. Nezet-Seguin certainly conducted up a storm, lavishing DOOM all around)and her being isolated in time and space works rather well, and certainly for Miss Damrau, who had a personal triumph in the role last night. A bit more experience will perhaps temper some unnecessarily literal vocal “effects” (I do not approve of singers appliqueing non-sung effects into the line. It rarely works well), but all in the, she sang the bejeezus out of it, dazzling in the conclusion of “Sempre libera”, very moving in Act II, and delivering both stanzas of “Addio del passato” with a gorgeous thread of tone.
      Mr. Domingo certainly brought “old school” charisma to the proceedings, was terrific in the Germont/Violetta scene of Act II, really the heart of the opera in a way, but sounded seriously huffed and puffed in “Di Provenza” -- with, naturally, that lousy cabaletta re-instated -quite disposable, and not really top of the line Verdi. Listening to him made the proverbial lightbulb go on in my head -- after all these years of listening to Traviata, duh, now I know why all those young baritones plop a grey wig on there heads and sing Germont -- it’s really high. Really high and PD’s erstwhile tenorissimo didn’t help him out there.
      Pirgu? Shmirgu? What was wrong with that man? A case of extrememe debutitis? He must be a hottie onstage (I listened on Sirius) because the voice is not particularly attractive, nor was his pitch good. Or even exact. He almost sorted things out by “Parigi o cara”, but ruined that with wayward pitch at the end.
      Still, I am left with the afterglow of the dual excellence of Damrau and Nezet-Seguin. Bravi to them.

      • Milady DeWinter

        MdW regrets the stoopid typos contained above.

      • Regina delle fate

        “A bit more experience…” Damrau is singing Violetta all over the shop next season. Opening the Scala season in a new production and revivals at Covent Garden and Opera-Bastille. I’m looking forward to Georgia Jarman in Cardiff and Joyce El Khoury in Amsterdam :)

    • Maybe it had to do with Dessay who can be a wonderfully moving artist

      But on this occasion was far more interested in playing her “Poor meee, ayy am so SEEEEK!” act for the HD cameras. Dessay stopped being any sort of artist around five years ago and has not shown any indication of wanting to return to that status since.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    I’ve only seen some clips of this production. I missed the HD and never caught it live at the house, so I’m talking through my hat. Indulge me anyway.

    It occurs to me that the numerous men who crowd around Violetta, who all look pretty much the same in the Decker version, can be assumed to be the men who paid to have sex with her in the past or will in the future. In more traditional productions, the men are more likely to be already paired with other courtesans at the party Violetta has thrown, although some might be interested in switching. The effect is very different, don’t you think? Less psychological pressure on her in the conventional staging, more in Decker’s. And the visual of a lone woman in a sea of similar men all pushing at her is very threatening.

    • armerjacquino

      Spot on. And this production also points up the fact that Flora is much more rival than she is friend. So many productions ignore what is clearly stated in the text: that Violetta’s grand comeback party is threatened because Flora has made half the guests late.

  • Dolciamente Pipo

    I’m sure it’s been said before, but these discussions so often seem to get reduced to extreme positions: “interventionist” productions always good/”traditional” productions always bad. Which is to say interventionist equals success, traditional equals failure. If you don’t like all the new stuff without question, you’re instantly branded a Zeffirelli lover.
    Obviously, rethinking and engagement with a piece should always be encouraged. Routine is the enemey of all crativity. And when it comes to interventionist or traditional, I’m sure people will have their preferences one way or the other.
    I’ve come to find a lot of interventionist staging quite stimulating, but I wouldn’t run screaming if I saw a “crinoline” onstage if I felt the creative team were engaged in what they were doing. Closed minds can work both ways.
    On the Decker “Traviata”, I was in and out. I loved the stripped down visual (and the dress!), and so much of the first scene was great. The second scene with the capering around the flowered sofas totally lost me. It just didn’t seem like an effective staging of any kind…scattered and non-specific. I don’t have an issue with re-imagining the Violetta/Germont relationship, but this version just didn’t convince me.
    It should also be mentioned regarding period stagings that they’re not really one-size-fits-all. Look at a traditional Traviata from the 70’s and you’ll see something quite different from what you see in the 90’s and oughts. You may be surprised to learn that women sported bouffantes in the 1800’s. Though it’s not just externals. Inevitably different behaviors will be explored and highlighted in different eras of “traditional” presentation. To move away from opera for an example: Look at a Western like “Gunsmoke” from the 60’s and compare it with something like “Deadwood” from more recent times. Both would be considered “traditional” and “realist” in their outward presentation, but couldn’t be more different in their overall effect.
    This is not a perfect example since the source material is different for each. A more exact example might be a Maria Callas production of a bel canto staple. “Traditional” certainly, but someone in a time machine from the 1830’s would probably have been surprised at what they saw there. My (rambling) point is just that each era views the past in it’s own way. Though I suppose you could argue that “interventionist” stagings are our eras way of viewing the past.
    My feeling is that both streams, tradional and interventionist, will continue to exist and have value. And, ideally, interesting “conversations” will develop between them.

    • armerjacquino

      It should also be mentioned regarding period stagings that they’re not really one-size-fits-all. Look at a traditional Traviata from the 70?s and you’ll see something quite different from what you see in the 90?s and oughts.

      Even more noticeable in Mozart. I’d be able to spot a 50s, 60s or 70s production at a hundred paces.

      My feeling is that both streams, tradional and interventionist, will continue to exist and have value. And, ideally, interesting “conversations” will develop between them.


    • bluecabochon
  • oedipe

    New season announcement: Deutscheoper Berlin

    • That’s a pretty timid season.

      • oedipe

        Yea, but the magazine is…splashy!

        • Anschauen! Mitmachen! Oper & Schule!

    • Hippolyte

      It seems fated that the title role in the new production of Billy Budd there is being played by an American baritone named John Chest.

    • Anna Smirnova is singing Abigaille. Interesting!

    • steveac10

      What strikes me is how few singers they have on the roster compared to the Met. Granted, the Met needs serious depth on the cover side because there is not likely to be a plausible replacement a couple of hours away -- but man to these German companies use their house singers -- and not just the bit parts. Some of them are singing in 6 or seven operas, frequently in fairly large roles. Aside from James Courtney and a few character tenors, the vast majority of the “non-star” singers are listed for one or 2 roles. One would think the pretty hangers on in Rondine could also perform the same function in Francesca and in act II of Parsifal, and that you could find a mezzo or two who could do Maddalena, a Valkyrie, Mercedes, Ragonde and maybe even cover a few principal roles. Where the hell are Jean Kraft, Betsy Norden and Loretta DiFranco when you need them? The 3 of them used to do the work now allotted to at least 15 singers today. Is it just a matter of minimizing full time employment?

    • Regina delle fate

      It’s pretty astonishing that the Deutsche Oper isn’t doing any Richard Strauss in the 13/14 season.Even Covent Garden is getting three including the Scala Frau and Elektra with Goerke -- my Chicago pals say we’re in for a treat.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Someone posted:

    • Thanks, QPF! Damrau sounds wonderful! Domingo brings the same strengths and weaknesses that he brings to all his baritone roles.

      • Porgy Amor

        Something I hear from Domingo that I really like in that middle clip is an elegance in the phrasing of the music, even though his legato is bumpier than it was in the days of yore. His Germont is a gentleman…or at least carries himself that way and would like to think he is. I hated everything about Hampson’s overwrought performance at Salzburg, and Dobber/Hvoro at the Met were some kind of improvement but neither was really in the spot for me. Domingo, even at this stage, has something they do not, and I hesitate to write this, because I *don’t* want him hanging around into his 80s singing everything in which anyone will have him. I just have to call it as I hear it. He has style to burn.

        • I think you outline Domnigo’s strengths very well. His chief weakness — something that I won’t be able to get over though I try each time I hear him in a new baritone role — is the lack of a true baritonal colour (rather than a baritone-tinged tenor sound which is what I hear).

          • kennedet

            What confuses me about these varied comments regarding Domingo is that he started professionally as a baritone !! He abviously switched to tenor, mastered the range and will go down in history by most as one of the great ones. However, I think he switched to baritone AGAIN because he can’t handle the tenor register anymore and has the clout and stature to start a major career as a baritone again in the major houses. I’m aware that singers has done this in the past but not like Domingo. I would not argue with his musicianship and his ability to phrase musically but I don’t think that is the point.

            Voice classification is a sticky issue, always, but this bizarre transition of Domingo’s is nearly impossible to explain to students if you are a voice technician. He mentioned in his interview last week that he was a tenor. True tenors IMHO cannot sing baritone. Obviously, it’s too low and the quality is non-existant in the lower registers.

            Finally, he has completely confused the entire concept of voice training IMO. It seems because of his switching that we have made a mockery of the way in which voice classification has been explained over the years. Are we to tell students that there is no such thing as classicifation anymore ??? If you can sing it that’s what you are??!!! How do you focus in what register you should train a voice?? Do you tell them they can switch registers willy-nilly when they can’t produce the sounds or the stamina in a higher register?? Is he some kind of phenomena which defies classification!! I don’t think so.

          • armerjacquino

            I don’t understand why, as mentioned before, Domingo’s switching should be any different from the countless sopranos who over the years have switched to the mezzo rep in the latter part of their careers.

            Are we to tell students that there is no such thing as classicifation anymore ??? If you can sing it that’s what you are??!!!

            I dunno. Ask Helga Dernesch.

          • la vociaccia

            Come on kennedet- zwischenfach. Tell them he’s a zwischenfach. It’s rare, but it exists. I don’t see how this is so confusing to a technician, and I really don’t see why it keeps you up at night wondering what you’ll tell the children.

          • Kennedet: I don’t think that Domingo’s case should have any impact on teh concept of voice training and classification. He is a unique case. One rarely hears of these types of cases anyway. Vinay is the only other major baritone/tenor that I can think of. (Also, Domingo started as a baritone in Zarzuelas where, from what I understand, there are some high-lying baritone roles that are close to a tenor).

            AJ: I don’t think the baritone/tenor switch is comparable to the soprano/mezzo switch. Mezzo and soprano voices are much closer to each other in terms of colour and ability. The gulf between a lyric mezzo and a lyric soprano is not that huge. There’s even less difference between a dramatic mezzo and dramatic soprano (and once you throw falcons in there, the lines are blurred further still). Dernesch is just one in a long line of famous sopranos who switched to mezzos at some point in their careers.

            However, there’s a much more significant difference to my ears between a heldentenor and heldenbariton. Or a lyric tenor and lyric baritone.

          • kennedet

            O.K., I give up. Thanks for all of your input. Let them study with Domingo or Helen Dernesch’s ghost for all I care. I’m too old for this.

            My wife is calling me for wine braised lamb shanks with herbes de Provence over mashed potatoe and turnip gratin. Green salad with oven roasted peppers and feta dressing.

          • Do you mind? Some of us are trying to keep to a sensible diet!! :)

          • manou

            This is a delicious and very balanced meal, kashania, and also very healthy if you skimp on the gratin.

          • armerjacquino

            It does sound delicious- good enough to bring Helen Dernesch from the dead, whoever she may be! ;-)

          • MontyNostry

            Bergonzi started off as a baritone, didn’t he? (And it has always surprised me that Bastianini started as a bass.)

          • messa di voce

            Loved Dernesch: really glamorous sound and a dramatic presence, but I always felt like she was kind of faking it as a soprano, and then that she was kind of faking it as a mezzo.

  • kennedet

    My sincerest apologies if Helga Dernesch is still alive. I didn’t see a death date when I googled her.I don’t mean to poke fun at great artists of her caliber.

  • Saw promising new tenor Salvatore Cordella (an artist new to me anyway) who subbed in and did a decent job in last night’s Traviata.. And yes, I really liked Damrau. Review on Superconductor.