Sublime singing characterizes this superb performance, with the understated brilliance of Willy Decker’s iconic 2005 Salzburg staging thrown in for good measure. Sold out well in advance, the chance to see opera’s living legend in action proved irresistible to thousands of ticket buyers, and their faith has been very well rewarded.
Placido Domingo has come full circle with La Traviata, returning to play the father in an opera where he achieved great acclaim as the son. To be still at the top at 72 would be incredible in any career, let alone the competitive world of opera, where the vagaries of public and administrative taste, let alone stress on the voice, can cut short even the most promising talents. Not only is Domingo still in excellent voice, not to mention physically agile, but his years of experience bring an emotional depth to the role. Giorgio Germont can be played as a cold, unfeeling man, but as scene one of act two progresses, Domingo shows the pain of Germont’s actions to be written right across his body. It is a physical performance that utterly transcends the stand and sing approach of so many lesser performers. And that voice. It is as if Domingo’s voice is another instrument in the orchestra, so perfectly does its rich timbre enhance the sheer beauty of the music. This late career move to baritone roles has been a bold choice and here is another instance of when the risk has certainly paid off handsomely. If there is one drawback to having such a star as Giorgio it is that his dramatic entrance music is interrupted by applause of the appreciative crowd!
Domingo alone could have carried this performance, so the presence of renowned bel canto soprano Diana Damrau raises the stakes significantly. Given that this is Damrau’s debut season as Violetta, her achievement in the role is nothing short of extraordinary. Looking every bit the voluptuous embodiment of male desire, Damrau fills out the now-famous red cocktail dress perfectly. Singing with astounding beauty, Damrau thrills the audience with her luscious, liquid soprano. Displaying incredible control throughout, Damrau makes inspired choices, especially with her divine pianissimo singing, breathing new life into many of the very well known passages. Her final aria “Addio, del passato” is a masterclass in dramatic build and vocal beauty, and it deservedly brings down the house.
Hearing and seeing Domingo and Damrau together in act two is to be transported to operatic heaven.
To take nothing away from the accomplishments of Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu, he really cannot help but be outclassed by his costars here. That said, there is plenty to admire in his performance, not the least of which are his genuine “youthful passion,” which serves the role very well, and his excellent diction. Pirgu’s “O mio rimorso” is solid if uninspiring, but he builds as the evening progresses, displaying his full acting and singing power in the tragic final act. Pirgu is certainly one to watch in the coming years.
Normally sitting in side orchestra, a visit to the front of the balcony proved to be an excellent choice for this opera. The curved white wall of Wolfgang Gussmann’s boldly simple design had extra depth from a distance, the rake of the stage also seeming to take on a giddy steepness. A bit of a gold standard for “concept” productions, the staging complements the opera very well, and retains a visual appeal that holds up to repeat viewings. Newcomers may need to make sure they are clear on the story, and minor characters are lost in the crowd, but there plenty of clever touches to overcome these minor drawbacks. The precise moves of the large chorus of “men” look terrific from a distance, with the series of images of Violetta lifted high on the red couch being most striking. The inspired work of lighting designer Hans Toelstede, a key aspect in the creative success of the staging, is also well appreciated from a distance.
Yannick Nezet-Seguin leads the impeccable Met Orchestra in a pacy, precise rendition of Verdi’s beloved score.
An unforgettable night at the opera.
This performance of La Traviata on 3 April 2013 was the second last for this season.
Photos: Simon Parris