Another month, another La Traviata release on video. This performance was culled from the 2014 Glyndebourne Festival and is in many ways the performance of La Traviata that you would get if you took all the major Traviata productions from around the globe and averaged them. The performance doesn’t feature spectacular performances but since none of them are outright bad they round off to “extremely professional and competent.”
Director Tom Cairns’ production and Hildegard Bechtler’s designs follow recent Traviata trends without adding any original touches: vaguely modern-dress, “timeless” non-descript sets, and rather cold person-regie between the opera’s three protagonists. The curtain rises on a modern salon that nonetheless has a chandelier and some other trappings of elegance that would be more true to the demi-mondaine life than the modern high-class escort.
Alfredo and Violetta don’t have much of a relationship in this production. In fact (spoiler alert!) Violetta dies alone. Alfredo and Germont become more and more remote in the final ensemble until Violetta is left onstage to expire by herself. I do like how in the last act you can actually see bottles and bottles of medicine on the table by Violetta’s bed. A misfire: Alfredo reads the letter in the last act in a pre-recorded voice-over. But overall the production is inoffensive and unmemorable.
The reason to snatch this video up is that Glyndebourne Festivals often feature singers who haven’t been locked into the predictable international house five year circuit. The heroine is played by Venera Gimadieva whose timbre is not that distinctive but who possesses excellent basic material for a young singer. Her coloratura is fairly accurate (although I wish she wouldn’t totally ignore the consonants in “Sempre libera”). In the long stretches of singing in Act Two and Act Three she sang with firm legato. It’s not a musically flashy performance but it’s not singing anyone can really complain about.
Her stage instincts are not for bold dramatics but rather a restrained elegance. If there’s one negative legacy of the famous Salzburg Festival video of La Traviata with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon it’s that I’ve noticed many Violettas now feel that they have to do everything Netrebko did in that video. That’s great … if you’re naturally extroverted and sexy like Netrebko was in that video. Other sopranos? It can look hammy. It’s good to see Gimadieva give a Violetta performance that’s organic to her own acting and not “because Anna smashed a champagne glass here I have to do it too.”
Fabiano (Alfredo) is a less happy match between singer and role. His career has risen at a meteoric speed, and part of that is because his voice is definitely not like those umpteen thousand generic light lyric tenors singing Alfredo all over the world. In this video it sounds as if he’s already outgrown Alfredo. His voice has a good amount of spinto metal in it, and he sings in a rather aggressive, muscular style. His performance is not bad by any means but it’s not the best showcase for his talents. I also wish he hadn’t dropped out for bars and bars so he can blare a high C at the end of “O mio rimorso.” This isn’t the 1950’s, folks.
Tassis Christoyannis’s Germont is very stolid, rigid, and completely unimaginative musically. Conductor Mark Elder opens one cut in “Parigi o cara” and “Gran dio morir di giovine” but otherwise second verses in “Addio del passato,” “O mio rimorso” and Germont’s cabaletta are given the traditional ax. He makes some unusual choices musically—in “Addio del passato” and other more lyrical passages he takes the score at a brisk, even brusque pace. I’m not saying he should indulge in Angela Gheorghiu-like note-spinning but he should let Verdi’s music breathe, so to speak.