Opera

Met Opera: La Traviata 2013 review

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photos: Simon Parris

Categories: Opera, Reviews

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8 replies »

  1. Nice review but it is wrong to compare him to Domingo, especially the young Domingo, as no tenor in my opinion compares to him but compared most tenors at the Met, Saimir is way superior and I certainly do not think he was outclassed (my opinion again). He could not sing on 18 March as he had a bad cold so I think his performance, while recovering from a cold, was magnificent. Of course, he is one of the few tenors who could possibly follow in Domingo’s footsteps when it comes to singing and acting. It is not often that you get the whole package. Now the Met just need to wake up and include him in more of the future productions. I do not see Charles Castronovo or Saimir Pirgu in next year’s lineup – what a pity.

    • Dear ZS,
      Thanks for your feedback and comments. I agree that Pirgu is a talented young performer and I will definitely be watching for him in the future. I suppose when I said ‘outclassed’ I just meant that it would be difficult for anyone opposite Domingo and also Damrau in this case.
      I certainly enjoyed Pirgu more than Matthew Polenzani, who I saw this time last year in La Traviata opposite Natalie Dessay.
      My favourite Alfredo of the seven times I have seen La Traviata around the world in the past 16 months is Gianluca Terranova, whi sang in the Opera Australia production outdoors on Sydney Harbour. He was amazing!
      Hope to see Pirgu included at the Met next year as they flesh out their casts beyonds the currently listed stars.
      Keep enjoying the opera!
      Simon

      • Thank you Sir, very much for your precious post!! Yes, I have seen already many La Traviata performances, but noone can match with the unforgettable, phenomenal, charismatic, fantastic performances (singing and acting!) of the great tenor, Gianluca Terranova!! We have the DVD of this magnificent La Traviata over there in Sydney Harbour, and it is one of our greatest treasure at all!! Do hope that we`ll see much more DVD`s of his wonderful performances in the future!! Have a great day and all the very best in the life always!!! Love from Susan Klee from Cologne/Germany

  2. I saw it opening night and really enjoyed it. It’s been the most well attended production this season with Rigoletto a close second.

    • Wish I has been able to see Rigoletto. I even missed the Live in HD version at cinema. Hopefully it will come out on bluray.
      Speaking of Live in HD, I think this year’s La Traviata was better and I bet they know wish this was the one they had filmed

  3. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing “brilliant” in Willy Decker’s production. A bare wall, a clock, a few couches that look like they came from Ikea, and a few slipcovers are NOT the face of a “brilliant” production for a fantastic opera like La Traviata. It actually gives the impression that either the MET ran out of money, or was too cheap to spend it on this production. Either way, I have a feeling that Verdi is turning in his grave. If you want to see a great production, watch the Zeffirelli film with Domingo and Stratas. With the costumes here, you couldn’t even differentiate the male and female singers. When I go to the MET, I prefer to see opulent productions, especially at the prices they charge.
    I do agree with your review of the singers. Domingo is a consummate total artist, and as usual, he was fantastic. Not too many tenors would take the risk of singing a baritone role, but we could all be thankful that he did. It certainly paid off. Damrau was a great Violetta, and Pirgu was the weakest of the cast.

    • Thanks for your comment Yossief.
      I agree overall that I would greatly prefer a lavish production any day. Have a look on my blog for the outdoor production of La Traviata in Sydney – it was amazing.
      What I like about the Willy Decker La Traviata is that it allows all the drama to come to the surface. It is not a high concept update that makes no sense.
      I agree that you cannot tell the men from women, but the visual of all the men clamouring for Violetta is very powerful and very appropriate. The idea that time is staring her in the face and she cannot escape it is also clever.
      It is unfortunate that it makes the Met look cheap. Overall, I am not judging it in regard to Met productions, but in regard to La Traviata productions I have seen around the world (7 in 6 different cities in the last 15 months) and I think the passion of the piece shines through in this one.
      I thought the Met’s recent Otello was a fabulous spectacle, and I also thoroughly enjoyed Giulio Cesare last night – hope you get to see that one.
      Simon

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