I love La Traviata, and always have done since hearing my first recordings of the opera with Sutherland, Bergonzi and Merrill(a lovely recording even if I slightly prefer the 70s Kleiber set), it is very touching with some of Verdi's most beautiful music. So the opera and the music is not among the reasons why I didn't care for this 2004 production.
There are some good things though. The orchestral playing is full of poetry and pathos, and Lorin Maazel's conducting brings nuances and a command to the music and is not too heavy-handed or tame in the first act, more consistent I feel than the 2007 Gheorghiu La Scala production. Patrizia Ciofi gives a very haunting and really quite moving rendition of Addio Del Passato, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky's Di Provenza is full of warmth and vocal beauty, with good phrasing and shades of darkness to the vocal production. Roberto Sacca's voice is at its best during O Mio Rimorso, where the voice does ring. The chorus do sing overall with nice tone and good balance. Brindisi didn't quite rouse me enough, but the Matador's chorus was very good.
However, I did feel that the three performances while having their good moments were not very consistent. Ciofi I do admire, she was excellent in Lucie Di Lammermoor and in Pia De Tolomei, but she has sung much better before. Her runs in Sempre Libera are reasonably clean, but the rendition does suffer from numerous pitch problems(with the big notes flat and some others on the pushed side) and I would have preferred more subtlety and nuances. Act 3 is mostly moving, but while some may find it interesting, I wasn't sure about Violetta's more defiant approach here in this act. In regard to the acting though, I do think Robert Carsen is mostly to blame. Here he makes Violetta and Alfredo so self-absorbed that it is difficult to feel anything for them. Yes I get his idea to focus on the bottom line profession of Violetta, but with making her little more than a common prostitute did he really intend to make us feel little sympathy for her?
Roberto Sacca isn't much better. I like him in Mozart and Rossini, and feel he's got a strong, quite flexible voice. Like Ciofi I do think he has been better vocally. The voice is strong but with a lot of bluster and not enough tenderness. His rather unattractive appearance here, even in his paparazzi-like costume, also doesn't convince me of him as Alfredo, the ardent lover. And even more so, he does have a stolid approach to his acting, little of what makes Alfredo so moving and thrilling as a character comes through, including a not very genuine reaction to Violetta's death. His chemistry with Ciofi doesn't convince, even in her Act 2 duet never did I feel that they were in love.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky is the best of the three. His voice, while not a large one, is warm and of silky tone, which, despite his tendency to gasp a little too audibly when breathing, is phrased nicely. His Di Provenza is beautifully and commanding and there are times where he does bring a stern and sympathetic approach to his performance here as the somewhat overbearing father figure Germont. That said, I do think he has been much more comfortable in the role, whereas his performance at the Met(as part of their live in HD series) was a very commanding one, here at times especially when Germont is introduced to us it seemed rather stiff.
The supporting cast sing competently, but I found that nobody really stood out for me. I didn't care for the production values and most of the staging either. When it comes to La Traviata, having been more familiar with Zeffirelli's film, Anna Moffo's version, the 1992, 1981 Met and 1994 performances, I much prefer a traditional approach to the staging with the costumes and decor sumptuous and the staging simple yet elegant. Here with Violetta dressed so flimsily and the settings so sparse it feels rather cold and sleazy visually. I didn't mind the men groping Violetta, it helped somewhat add to her personality in Act 1. That in mind, I didn't see the significance of the money bills on the floor complete with Verdi's picture.
But the big disappointment was that Violetta and Alfredo's love just didn't move me in any way, especially in Di Quel'Amor when Alfredo is throwing photos at Violetta and spending the rest of the duet more in love with his camera, and also again the money bills proved to be a distraction to what should be the most heart-rending moment of La Traviata, that of Violetta's Amami Alfredo(here I just felt angered at how such a beautiful moment was spoilt for no real reason). Overall, forced and disappointing yet with some good moments. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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