Opera superstars Renée Fleming and Rolando Villazón star in the sumptuous 2006 Los Angeles production of Verdi's tragic masterpiece, La Traviata. This performance was the highlight of James Conlon's much-anticipated inaugu... more »ral season as the music director of Los Angeles Opera, a post that followed his impressive tenure at the Paris National Opera. The lavish production was filmed in Hi-Definition Widescreen to capture all of the excitement and drama on stage. Veteran Verdi baritone Renato Bruson rounds out this dynamic ensemble. Renée Fleming's heart-breaking portrayal of Violetta, as captured on this extraordinary DVD, has earned her rave reviews from press and Rolando Villazón returns to the role that made him an international powerhouse after his critically-acclaimed, soldout performances at the 2005 Salzburg Festival.« less
From a skeptic: this production excels in every way
Toni Bernhard | Davis, CA United States | 11/02/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With so many La Traviata DVD's available that feature "superstar" sopranos (Edita Gruberova, Angela Gheorghiu, Anna Netrebko to name but three), I popped this one into my DVD player with some trepidation. After all, Renee Fleming, beautiful though her voice is, has been known to turn a Verdi aria into a jazz number. And Rolando Villazon is a wonderfully expressive tenor, but has a tendency to overact and can wear you out with his flailing about onstage.
I'm happy to report that my concerns were unfounded. As Alfredo, Villazon is in even better voice than he was in the 2005 Salzburg production of Traviata with Netrebko. He has also toned down his physical movements; his acting is an asset here, not a distraction.
Fleming is dazzling as Violetta. I think the reason she sometimes jazzes up 18th and 19th Century opera is that she can do anything with her instrument; this is a unique and special ability that unfortunately has sometimes led her to make the wrong style choice. Here, however, she sings Verdi as I assume the master intended. She pays careful attention to phrasing and is faithful to the score, yet also sings with abandon, making Violetta truly her own. That combination of the seemingly contradictory qualities of control and abandon are what, to me, make for great opera singing. (Those same qualities also describe the unique sound of many Verdi scores.) Fleming brings the house down before she can even get to the famous, "Sempre Libera," by turning "Ah! Fors'e lui" into such a bittersweet and moving contemplation on the possibility that love has finally found her, that her exquisite trills at the end will make your spine tingle.
Some people were disappointed that Dmitri Hvorostovsky bowed out as Germont in this L.A. Opera production and was replaced with Renato Bruson. Bruson does a fine job and, in fact, I was disappointed with the usually superb Hvorostovsky when he played Germont in the La Fenice 2004 production of Traviata. He was strangely stiff and remote as the concerned, if overbearing, father. He seemed uncomfortable as Germont (which, of course, may not have been the case two years later in this production). Nevertheless, the veteran Bruson brings the right balance of sternness and fatherly love to the role.
Call me old fashioned, but I love Traviata with lush sets and period costumes. If you do too, you'll drink in the sights here.
I've decided that I don't need to find the definitive DVD of La Traviata. Violetta is such a multi-layered character upon whom Verdi has made such varied vocal demands that I like to savor the highlights each soprano brings to the role: Gruberova's vulnerability and how she seems to literally fade away as she sings "Addio del passato"; Gheorghiu's powerful and heartbreaking cry, "Amami, Alfredo," in which she turns a few short musical phrases into a stand-alone aria; Netrebko's spontaneity and charisma. And now I can add Fleming to that list. She sings every line with clear intention; not a note is thrown away. Precision and abandon. It's a dazzling performance."
C. Boerger | Columbus, OH USA | 11/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm a little surprised that some of the reviewers have qualified their recommendations with negative comments, since I consider this not only the best Traviata I have seen on DVD but also a contender for greatest opera DVD ever! But before I drown the reader in hyperbole(as I have been known to do), allow me to step back, catch my breath, and calmly explain why this is a must own for any lover of vintage opera.
Perhaps no opera has been as well served by DVD as La Traviata. Prior to purchasing this, I already owned two excellent DVDs of this opera, so why invest in a third? Two reasons: Renee Fleming and Renee Fleming. I was fortunate enough to see her perform this role live in New York under the baton of the esteemed Valery Gergiev, and in a typically lavish Zefferelli production, in what I believe was her first ever series of performances in the role of VIoletta, and was absolutely blown away, and infatuated, with her lively, mercurial, incredibly sung interpretation of the doomed courtesan. Even in an upper balcony I could feel the waves of this character's overpowering passion. Ever since, I have been anxiously waiting for a DVD release of a Fleming Traviata. I had been hoping for the Met, but after watching this Los Angeles Opera presentation I am not disappointed. This is as good as what I saw in New York, perhaps better.
Fleming doesn't dance across the stage with the same reckless abandon she displayed in New York(at the Met she threw a champagne glass against the wall during Sempre libera), and she isn't as quick out of the gate as Angela Gheorghiu(her opening recitatives are a little underwhelming), but she still delivers a full-bodied and full throttle performance, getting inside the skin of this tragic character(and under the skin of the audience) like no other, making you wish Violetta really could come back to life at the end just so you could hear her sing some more. This is a very brave performance in that Fleming often pulls some vocal surprises, taking the singing in different directions than the listener is accustomed to, and pulls it off every time. Similar to Johanna Meier's Liebestod in the recent Deutsche Grammophon Tristan und Isolde DVD, Fleming gives a softer reading of the powerhouse aria Addio del passato, but no less impassioned, or effective. Fleming might be my favorite Violetta EVER because she injects so much humanity into Verdi's powerful notes.
Renee Fleming is certainly enough of a reason to buy this DVD, but far from the only one. Of course I had heard and read a great deal about Rolando Villazon before watching this, but I don't think I had ever seen or heard him perform. I was startled the second he opened his mouth by the quality of his voice. I'm not sure why(maybe because of his youth and his smallish physical stature), but I was expecting a more high-pitched, less mature voice. His deep, masculine tenor is gorgeous, and perfect for this role. I don't find his impassioned mannerisms inappropriate, on the contrary, they are welcome because they add greatly to the character. In fact, watching Villazon's macho but sensitive pleadings, listening to the ardor in his voice, I felt I finally understood Alfredo Germont. So many tenors play the role as a shy, smitten schoolboy in the first act, then the audience is supposed to buy his sudden transformation into smoldering man-of-action. Villazon smolders from the moment he steps on stage, and in effect provides the viewer with the most convincing Alfredo on record. In his hands, even the sort-of-silly act two cabaletta, one of the opera's rare less-than-sublime moments, becomes a vital part of the score. I, too, was hoping to see Dmitri Hvorostovsky reprise the role of Giorgio Germont, which he performed in New York, I thought Renato Bruson might be too old, but my fears were assuaged almost immediately, he certainly looks the part more than any other baritone, and his voice, while tremulous at times, is still a force to be reckoned with. He also matches his peers in the acting department, his Germont is perhaps even more sympathetic than Hvorostovsky's, and almost certainly more intimidating. The tenderness his character feels for his son is palpable, particularly during Di Provenza il mar, and when he sings Piangi, piangi during his devastating act two duet with Fleming, he is weeping as much as she is! When all is said and done, I wouldn't trade his performance for any other Verdi baritone's.
I can't stress this enough...the vocal and physical performances of the leads are so strong, so impassioned, that the result is an emotionally draining performance that is at times unbearably beautiful.
James Conlon seems to have a deep affinity for this score. He knows just when to speed up and when to slow down in order to afford his singers some breathing room, when to turn up the volume(although the orchestra never sounds bombastic) and when to ease it down so his players can luxuriate in Verdi's tender nuances, and he conducts with an almost Wagnerian dramatic flow. This score(Verdi's elegiac restructuring of, and farewell to, bel canto) has never sounded better, in fact the performance gave me a renewed appreciation for just how great an opera this really is, worthy of the pantheon, full of orchestral subtlety and meaningful vocalism, which is as much as you can ask from any opera. Conlon's interpretation is such a wonderful expereience that mentioning the occasional cut(a practice that usually makes steam come out of my ears) in this case sounds like nitpicking. Marta Domingo's sets are gloriously traditional, appropriately lavish but also very tasteful, even during the Parisian galas. They add to the performance while never trying to overwhelm it. Brian Large's video direction is movielike, appropriate for a Tinseltown presentation. The sound quality is superb, well-balanced. This is my first experience with the Los Angeles opera and I am very VERY impressed.
As of this writing, my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes are 10-0 and ranked number one in the nation, and I just watched a perfect DVD of La Traviata. Can life get any better?"
TODD KAY | 11/18/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Let us hope that the Alfredo, Rolando Villazon, recovers quickly and in full from the unspecified difficulties that, at this writing, have forced him to cancel approximately half a year of engagements, and may have contributed to performances earlier this year suggesting a vocal crisis. In the 2006 Los Angeles TRAVIATA, he improves on his promising Alfredo opposite Anna Netrebko a year earlier at Vienna (preserved on DG DVD and CD). The phrasing is more mature and pointed, the burnished tone and virile address much as before, and the portrayal marked by less exaggeration and straining for effect, although that last may have something to do with his being liberated from Decker's cretinous production. He is physically and vocally matched to this role in a way that makes me think of di Stefano, and I hope that the similarities do not extend too far -- a di Stefanoesque premature burnout would be a great loss for us all. He cements his status as one of the front-rank documented Alfredos by making even the cabaletta "O mio rimorsa" (no more than pro forma early Verdi on the page) sound very nearly like great music.
Renato Bruson, as Germont pere, has appeared in lead roles all over the world since his professional debut as Count di Luna in 1961, and had reached the great age of 70 by the date of this performance. Germont has long been a Bruson specialty, and he recorded it commercially opposite Renata Scotto and Alfredo Kraus (Muti/EMI) almost 30 years ago, when he was the youngest singer of the principals, playing the oldest character. We all of us are at the mercy of time, and one struggles to write about the new performance without recourse to the patronizing. My first impulse, for example, was to call his work here "courageous," but that would not do justice to the full effect. I suppose the best way of putting it across the plate is to say that you will look long and hard to find a 70-year-old baritone who can perform Germont on this level, and who commits so little for which any apology is necessary. The learned Mr. Davis's editorial review accuses Bruson of mistaking stiffness for authority; I respectfully dissent. This is a Germont who is stubbornly of his time and his milieu, intelligent and capable of feeling but not easily swayed by sentiment, nor dissuaded from a considered course of action. Watch him carefully in the long encounter with Violetta in Act II, consider who Germont is and what he believes, and ask yourself if the veteran Bruson does not get more of it right than at least three-fourths of the Germonts you have seen (if you have such a frame of reference). In the beginning, he is brusque but never menacing or heavy-handed. He has the determination and conviction we want and expect from a Germont, and an appropriate quality of encroaching frailty and mortality that we very rarely get; this colors all of his appearance and interactions. Look at him and listen to him when Violetta repeats back in questioning form, with surprise, the information that Germont has *two* children -- in his short response there is a mingling of paternal love and pride and a distracted quality (as if this has come out absentmindedly), a desire to move the conversation along and continue to drive the agenda. When Violetta asks him to embrace her as a daughter, he seems both touched and slightly embarrassed. In his appearance and manner, Bruson is Giorgio Germont to the life, and for the greater duration of the time he was on stage, I was struck more by how much of that burgundy velvet voice he has left than by what the passage of the years has rubbed away. The fortes are not always ideally controlled, and the climax of the entreaty to Alfredo, the chestnut "Di provenza," does not come easily, but it would be a harder heart than mine that could remain unmoved by this "Di provenza." For me, it was the most affecting part of the evening: an opportunity to watch and listen to one of the last living, working links to an idiomatic performance tradition in Italian opera that, if not dying, is certainly not in the thriving estate that it was 40 years ago. While this L.A. audience carries on a bit too much for my taste, stopping the show with applause after essentially every discrete number, occasionally to the detriment of musical continuity, Bruson richly deserves the loud "bravo" that some male spectator shouts after that aria concludes, and the ovation that follows. Had I been there, I certainly would have added to its volume.
To Renée Fleming's Violetta, the reaction is more ambivalent. Fleming's basic persona is a warm and inviting one. She looks smashing in Giovanni Agostinucci's period costumes, and she excels as the gracious hostess of Act I. We know precisely what Alfredo means in Act II when he sings blissfully of her "gentle smile of love," for we have already seen abundant evidence of it. The shaping and deployment of the great Act III aria "Addio del passato" are clearly the work of a major singer. Too, Fleming has worked hard at the fioritura. In Act I it still *sounds* like work, but it is a dutiful and conscientious effort. The trill at "Ora son forte" in Act III is, wonder of wonders, excellent (I even checked it against that of an esteemed recorded Violetta whom one would expect to be better at this sort of thing, and the impression held). Her ripe-sounding tone is not ideal for this part, to my ears, and there are long stretches of the role requiring that she take up residence in high altitudes where she would be more comfortable making only brief visits. She wisely avoids the unwritten high E-flat at the end of "Sempre libera," but does anyone really care anymore? (One breed of Italian opera buff used to claim that any Violetta who failed to sing that note was a failed Violetta, no matter what went on for the remaining two-plus hours. One hopes that this breed has become extinct.) My reservations about the performance are more about questionable stylistic and dramatic choices on the soprano's part than the purely vocal matters. Although this is not as mannered a performance as her most divisive ones of recent years have been, there are oddities. What effect, for example, is achieved -- other than a precious kind of distinction for the sake of it -- when the musically important word "misterioso" (in "Ah fors é lui") is minced out in five truncated, detached notes, rather than ones bound together in a legato phrase? Violetta's great plea "Amami, Alfredo" near the end of Act II is similarly sectioned out rather than unfurled, although there it seems less a mannerism than an unwisely slow tempo choice; she has to attack it in pieces because she otherwise could not breathe through it. Perhaps the most moving music in the opera, Violetta's "Alfredo, Alfredo, di questo core" (sung upon her awakening from her faint at Flora's Act II party), is also too slow -- not only in and of itself but in relation to the ebb and flow of the majestic ensemble of which it is the cornerstone -- and the vocalism is weighted with needless lily-gilding affectations to boot. Often I had the sense that conductor James Conlon was not so much *complicit* as he was *compliant*. Every one of the points of the score where I felt the music was being pulled out of shape so that the singer could overmilk a phrase or exaggerate some dramatic point, was a Violetta passage (Act II's "Ah, dite alla giovine" is one more in the pile of exhibits).
A final word on the topic of exaggeration: Fleming's histrionics in the crucial Violetta/Germont confrontation are not well calibrated, and I am not sure whether the blame for this should be laid on her, director Marta Domingo, or both (from prior experience with Fleming and Domingo separately, I tend to suspect the soprano). More subtlety and a gradual build to despair are needed here. Fleming does so much audible sobbing, gasping, and vocal thickening to suggest singing through tears that at moments when the anguish is supposed to ratchet up, she has left herself nowhere to go -- she can only still more heavily underline what she already has been doing. Violetta Valery is a sensitive woman of deep feeling and tragic predicaments, yes, but there are other sides to her: stoicism, a core of iron, and an innate nobility that Giorgio Germont picks up on almost immediately. The Violettas of Albanese and Callas, de los Angeles and Scotto, Caballé and Cotrubas, Stratas and (though her complete performance is beset with other problems) Netrebko evidenced this. They were very different singers and very different women, but they knew where the dramatic keys were in the scene, and they knew how to make sure we did as well. This is the greatest shortcoming of Fleming's Violetta and of this entire production -- in such an important scene, this remarkable character is little more than a teary matron hanging over the arm of a couch, all but drowning out the baritone with Lucy Ricardoesque sobs.
The Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus perform laudably for Conlon, whose work is sensible and proportionate when he is not overindulging the soprano. Marta Domingo's production eschews eccentricity without eschewing initiative -- most of the central action is sympathetically and intelligently worked out, and there are interesting things going on around the margins. I particularly liked the treatment of Annina, whose love for her mistress and grief at her impending loss come through more strongly here than is usually the case (the comprimario singers, this is a good time to say, are uniformly excellent). This surely would be a candidate for inclusion on any list of the most visually beautiful opera DVDs available at present. Decor is sumptuous and colorful (director Domingo herself has a background in design, and her credentials presumably influenced the shape of Agostinucci's costumes and sets). The picture quality has a true cinematic sheen. The ubiquitous video director Brian Large continues to demonstrate that he is ubiquitous with reason; what he chooses to emphasize is always pertinent, often telling. He even gets good reaction shots from the choristers playing guests in Violetta's Act I party, which Domingo has imaginatively staged al fresco.
And so, for a traditional TRAVIATA with state-of-the-art audio/visual credits, a formidable contender. The most ardent fans of Fleming, or those who feel they will be untroubled by what I describe as musical and histrionic infelicities marring an intermittently impressive Violetta, should feel free to add a star."
Renee Fleming Does Again!
Signor Destino | Norfolk,Virginia | 12/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"How I wish I could have been in the house that night!I would have witnessed the definitive staging of Verdi's masterpiece,La Traviata.The principals were phenomenal! Renee Fleming,prima donna assoluta,from opening to closing credits,was Violetta Valery.Her 2nd act duet with the elder Germont and her "Swan Song" were master class material. As she ages,she only perfects her instrument.Her tonality,trills and pianissimo only improve with age.She is at the zenith of her powers here.Vocally and visually,she put her stamp on the role. With this performance, I join those extolling the talents of Rolando Villazon. Don't judge a book by its cover.His instrument combines the machismo of Placido Domingo and the tears of Franco Corelli.The tenor repertory is secure.I hope he has the good sense not to overuse his wonderful gift.He truly is the best tenor on the world stage today. The distinguished Renato Bruson was perfectly cast as the elder Germont.His instrument bespeaks of natural aging.His tone was beautiful throughout.His 2nd act aria could bring tears to the Devil's eyes! What a wonderful Christmas present this was.I'll be able to see these performances over and over.A must-have for any opera lover's collection."
A good, solid "reference" Traviata
Warmgoy | 01/07/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a most enjoyable DVD - not perhaps the most exciting Traviata out there, but a good, solid, musically polished account filtered through a visually attractive, traditional production. There are no earth shaking ideas here, but the direction is sensible and straightforward and well executed. Fleming is on good behavior - her Violetta is not to all tastes, but she does a lovely job here. She does not take the high options she did employ when new to the role, but the coloratura of Act one is cleanly handled and she is in solid form throughout. Villazon is lovely to hear, and dramatically quite compelling. Bruson has seen better days, but is still caught in good late career form. Conlon's conducting is perhaps a trifle four square at times, but given the erratic treatment the opera has often sufferred of late, this does bring its rewards. The sound quality is not outstanding - those with fine digital systems may be a bit underwhelmed, but it is higher than average and perfectly acceptable. All in all, a fine, "reference" account performed by some of the more enjoyable forces of our day. If you are looking for a basic Traviata for your collection, this well be the choice for you."