Toni Bernhard | Davis, CA United States | 04/15/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Mine seems to be a minority opinion here, but this production was a big disappointment. I was looking forward to Patrizia Ciofi as Violetta because she was thrilling in the recent Lyon Opera production of Lucie de Lammermoor. I was curious to see Roberto Sacca as Alfredo because I've only heard him as a sweet-voiced Mozart tenor (he does a great job of humanizing Don Ottavio in The Zurich Opera's 2001 Don Giovanni). And I expected great things from Dmitri Hvorostovsky who was so good as di Luna in Il Trovatore.
The first surprise was to see Violetta played as a common prostitute instead of the self-educated and refined courtesan, Marie Duplessis, on whom Verdi based the character. To help with this transformation, the director updates the setting to the 1970's, Violetta parading around in flimsy lingerie and Alfredo appearing to be some kind of photographer (paparazzi perhaps?). I can accept the director's choice to focus on Violetta's "bottom line" profession, but in Act I, Ciofi and Sacca play their characters as so self-absorbed that they are entirely unsympathetic. How can we believe Alfredo loves Violetta when, as he cries "mysterioso" in "Di quell' amor," he's throwing photographs at her ("head shots" in the trade) and then sings the rest of the duet with his camera in front of his face, snapping pictures? This duet seems like a complete failure to me.
Ciofi continues to disappoint in Act I. She oversings and overacts in her big set piece. I find it painful to watch. In Act II, Sacca's voice comes alive in "O mio rimorso," but why is the floor of the forest covered with U.S. dollars printed with Verdi's picture? I don't get it. (The bills later fall like leaves as Violetta cries "Amami, Alfredo," providing a big distraction in what should be the opera's most heartbreaking moment.) I was hoping Hvorostovsky would save the day as Germont, but he's strangely stiff and remote as the concerned, if overbearing, father. He seems uncomfortable in the role.
Ciofi's best moments come in her death scene, including a haunting rendition of "Addio del passato." But on the whole, this production feels forced, from the singing to the acting to the directorial choices. For Traviata on DVD, I recommend either the 1992 La Fenice production with Gruberova, Schicoff, and Zancanaro (Rizzi conducting) or the 1994 Covent Garden production with Gheorghiu, Lopardo, and Nucci (Solti conducting)."
Not to be missed
Archie | Ottawa ON Canada | 12/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Admittedly there are some things to criticise about the underlying concept behind this production (I do not agree with Robert Carson's premise that Violetta was a prostitute. She was a courtesan, something far different)-- but surely that is part of the fun of seeing new productions. Fortunately the "stand and deliver" static productions are dying off, singers are now expected to be able to act as well as sing; and opera productions are moving in varied directions -- some more successfully than others. Carson has a basic premise and builds on it in a unified manner. The production is nowhere near as bad as Mr. Piper's somewhat over-the-top review would have one believe; and I hope that no one is put off by his review. The ballet which he calls a complete bust is an appropriate campy nightclub production; there is not all that much rolling around the floor; the lingerie is not all that revealing; etc etc. One should take the time to try to figure out what is happening and why. As I wrote above, it certainly makes viewing more fun.
The reason I started in this way is because I would hate people to be put off from buying this recording. The three leads are prime examples of actor/singers, and their performances really should be seen. Dmitry Hvorostovsky as Giorgio Germont gives a restrained but powerful performance which leaves us in no doubt that this is a man who is used to command, who is never questioned, who is always in control and believes himself always right --until the final act. Roberto Sacca as Alfredo Germont was a bit nervous at the start, but quickly got into it and portrayed a man who is soft and warm (which is what Violetta iis looking for) until he is crossed and then his passion is aroused and one can see the underlying fire that Violetta was also doubtless aware of.
But by far the star performer here (as in Lucie de Lammermoor) is Patrizia Ciofi as Violetta. Her body language in the differing requirements of Act I, each part of Act II, and Act III is a marvel to behold. It is such a strong performance that were the other two not so good, the production would be too one-sided.
Needless to state, the singing is first rate. The orchestra under Lorin Maazel was also quite good, although because of the power of what was happening on the stage one tends not to pay too much attention to it.
All told, this is a production that should not be missed. It is different in concept from other Traviatas; and even if you disagree with the basic premise, the acting and singing will hold you spellbound and perhaps will even provoke a tear or two."
Z. Yang | Hockessin, DE USA | 11/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This updated production of La Traviata, recorded live on Nov. 18, 2004 at the rebuilt Teatro La Fenice in Venice was the performance to reopen the opera season at the legendary theatre after its being destroyed by fire on the night of Jan. 29, 1996. It will stand in its own place among all the La Traviata's for its modern staging and refreshing perspectives. The fact that it used the original 1853 version that was world-premièred at La Fenice would make the performance more significant, only that you wouldn't want history to repeat itself in respect to the opening night of La Traviata at La Fenice on May 6, 1853, which was, in Verdi's own words, "a fiasco". Robert Carsen's ambitious production, boasting the glittery nightclub scenes and design of large symbolic dollar bills (oddly with Verdi's image in the center) covering and hovering the stage, would certainly be under such risk, but pulled off amazingly thanks to the wonderful cast that takes up the challenge rigorously. As Robert Carsen wrote in the liner notes for the DVD, "It is sometimes easy to forget that La Traviata is a story about a prostitute, albeit one at the top of her profession." That well explains the bold approach in this production where elements of sex and money are conveyed not as subtly as one usually expects - right from the beginning, during Verdi's beautiful overture, one is reminded of both.
Patrizia Ciofi portrayed a passionate, struggling, and emotional honest Violetta, who would stay in one's mind long after the play is over. Her Violetta is well sung and deeply touching. With just the right vitality and vanity, she makes the role more compelling than other Violetta's I've seen. Roberto Sacca's Alfredo is adequately sung, but suffered from shortage of charisma in his acting. His tenor voice tends to wobble on the high notes. Hvorostovsky's Giorgio Germont is a father figure who has the strength that's all his own. The intensity of this character comes from his impeccable, smooth singing and nuanced acting (for one thing, he didn't slap the disobeying son). The great scene of Violetta and Giorgio Germont's duet in Act II is one of the many highlights of the night. "
Well-sung, well-directed "modern dress" production
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 10/24/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This performance of "La Traviata" was to celebrate the reopening of the Teatro la Fenice in 2004. As most opera buffs know, the original premiere of La Traviata in 1853 at the same theatre was a fiasco. Giuseppe Verdi rewrote some of the music, and set the opera back a century. It of course became a huge hit, and to this day remains arguably Verdi's most popular opera. This 2004 performance uses the original 1853 score. There aren't many differences -- the obvious differences are in the Germont/Violetta duet in Act 2, brief snippets of music in the party scene, and again brief snippets of music in the final Alfredo/Violetta duet.'
The production is not a "traditional" Traviata. It's been updated to modern times. Violetta's party is rather sleazy. In the opening scene she's dressed in a revealing red negligee, and men grope her as she sits atop a piano. Alfredo is an eager paparazzi -- in "Un di felice" he shows Violetta the pictures he's taken of her. An overriding symbol in the production is money -- Violetta throws a handful of dollar bills in the air while singing Sempre libera. In Act 2, instead of the usual country house we're set in a "forest of greenbacks," with money literally falling out of trees. Flora's party is a sleazy nightclub, and the "ballet" is performed by, well, not exactly strippers, but nightclub dancers. There's a big screen TV showing the nightclub dancers. In the final act, Violetta is alone in a warehouse/loft. The large screen TV remains, but this time there's only static. Violetta's empty life of celebrity is over. She sadly flips through the photos Alfredo gave her while she sings "Addio del passato."
Many people might not like the updated production, but I thought it worked fairly well. The real-life "Violetta," Marie duPlessis, died at the age of 23. She was pimped out by her father when she was in her teens. Despite the multitude of lovers, she couldn't have had many happy moments in her life. She was a celebrity, but it must have been an empty, unfulfilling life. This production doesn't change the gist of La Traviata. The only thing that's different is that Violetta is not so obviously dying of consumption.
But La Traviata lives or dies at the hands of the soprano. There have been so many Violettas, but so few great ones. I hesitate to put Ciofi on the list of "greats" but she's certainly very good indeed. Her voice is not the most beautiful -- it has an acidic edge to it, and her performance is not perfect either. She struggles with pitch problems during Act 1. The fiendishly difficult runs of "Sempre libera" are sung cleanly and she even throws in an interpolated E-flat. But hers is a Violetta that improves through the acts. Naturally thin and frail-looking, she truly looks sick by the last act, and although her voice is not large she knows how to sell the big moments, like "Amami Alfredo" or the final "Oh gioia!". Roberto Sacca is the weak link. He's pudgy and unattractive, but that's not why I don't like his portrayal. He's very insensitive. All bluster and no tenderness. He has a good ringing top but that's it. (Although to be fair it's hard to find tenors willing to sing Alfredo. Many of the famous ones think it's beneath them.) Dmitri Hvorostovsky's silky baritone is appropriate for Germont, but at this point in his career he could walk through the role, and he does.
Of the La Traviatas available on dvd, I would choose Angela Gheorghiu's video as perhaps the best "starter" dvd. A traditional, tasteful production, and Gheorghiu was/is a wonderful Violetta, with a voice that's more traditionally beautiful. Anna Moffo made an artificial, over-glamorized film in the late 1960s, but that doesn't detract from Moffo's incandescent Violetta. This Venice performance is not perfect, but if you're a fan of either Ciofi or the opera, I recommend the video."
Best of show
L. Gallagher | Los Angeles, CA United States | 01/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In my view, there is only one rival to this set's claim to being best of show in DVD presentations of "Traviata," and that is the DGG set from the 2005 Salzburg production starring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. I discount the early '90's Covent Garden set with Ghiorghiu and Lopardo because there is no discernible chemistry between the protagonists and, despite the intelligent staging and Lopardo's accomplished vocalism, Ghiorghiu's otherwise lovely performance is marred by the fact she sings sharp at many of the key moments. In any event, aficionados of the opera on DVD should have both the Ciofi and the Netrebko performances. The Salzburg performance probably trumps this one in terms of sheer vocal brilliance: the combination of Nebrebko and Villzon is breathtaking. Willy Decker's staging, while ingenious, is nonetheless very 'high concept' and bloodless: it's hard to get a sense of the social milieu that makes Violetta's predicament so harrowing. The triumph of the Salzburg production, in other words, belongs to the star singers, and the singing is indeed incandescent, as is the sexual chemistry onstage between Netrebko and Villazon. But they are working pretty much in a fuschia-tinted vacuum. The set from La Fenice, on the other hand, boasts an extraordinarily inventive, richly detailed staging by Robert Carsen. The updating to a 1970's Studio 54 scene is probably not for all markets, but it is consistently (and beautifully) rendered and it provides the necessary, harrowing sense of context against which to measure the precariousness of Violetta's situation. As for the singers, Ciofi is no match for Netrebko in terms of vocal suavity: the sheer sound of Nebrebko's Violetta is a thing of wonder. But Ciofi, with a reedier and more agile instrument, is a far better actor and she is able to communicate the chiaroscuro emotions behind of vocal line of Verdi's score in a more nuanced and deeply moving way than Netrebko. I would not want to have to choose between the two performances -- not least because Ciofi's partner, Alfredo Sacca, while good, cannot match the febrile intensity and vocal glamour of Villazon. Still, if I had to choose, I'd go for Ciofi."