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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]

110 comments

  • Constantine A. Papas says:

    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 says:

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

    • quibbleglib says:

      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.

      • kashania says:

        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 says:

        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 says:

    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 says:

      um. right.

    • fidelio101 says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

        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 says:

        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 says:

          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 says:

          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.

          • La Cieca says:

            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 says:

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

  • kashania says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

        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’.

        • kashania says:

          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 says:

            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 says:

            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 says:

          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 says:

            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.

      • kashania says:

        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.

        • Maury D says:

          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 says:

          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 says:

      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 says:

        MdW regrets the stoopid typos contained above.

      • Regina delle fate says:

        “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 :)

    • La Cieca says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

      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.

      Bravo.

  • oedipe says:

    New season announcement: Deutscheoper Berlin

    http://www.deutscheoperberlin.de/#magazine-184286

    • m. croche says:

      That’s a pretty timid season.

    • Hippolyte says:

      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.

    • kashania says:

      Anna Smirnova is singing Abigaille. Interesting!

    • steveac10 says:

      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 says:

      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 says:

    Someone posted:



    • kashania says:

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

      • Porgy Amor says:

        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.

        • kashania says:

          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 says:

            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 says:

            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 says:

            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.

          • kashania says:

            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 says:

            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.

          • kashania says:

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

          • manou says:

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

          • armerjacquino says:

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

          • MontyNostry says:

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

          • messa di voce says:

            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 says:

    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.