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S & H International Opera Review

Verdi, La Traviata, Soloists, Metropolitan Opera, Valery Gergiev, The Metropolitan Opera, New York City, March 2nd, 2004 (BH)

Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Production: Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer: Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designer: Raimonda Gaetani
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Choreographer: Maria Benitez
Stage Director: Laurie Feldman

Violetta Valéry: Renée Fleming
Flora Bervoix: Edyta Kulczak
The Marquis d’Obigny: Thomas Hammons
Baron Douphol: Michael Devlin
Doctor Grenvil: Vaclovas Daunoras
Gastone, Vicomte de Letorières: Eduardo Valdes
Alfredo Germont: Ramón Vargas
Annina, Violetta’s companion: Diane Elias
Giuseppe, Violetta’s servant: Marty Singleton
Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father: Dmitri Hvorostovsky
A Messenger: Joseph Pariso
Solo Dancers: Jenny Bascos, Annemarie Lucania, and Griff Braun


It takes something to stand up to Franco Zeffirelli’s luxuriously detailed, juicily overcrowded and undeniably effective 1998 production of La Traviata. That something was out in force here with Renée Fleming, Ramón Vargas, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky onstage, and all in knockout form. At the podium, Valery Gergiev found seemingly endless wellsprings of energy, driving the evening to levels of passion I didn’t realize were in Verdi’s score. It may be a very long time before I hear this work sung so well again. And although Fleming may have been the big draw for some, to my ears all three principals, and Gergiev, were having an above-average night.

Vargas’ sublime tenor had no trouble filling the huge Met space, such as in his spectacularly mellow Un dì felice. But as with his colleagues, his musical instincts were equally on target. He seemed an ideal complement to Fleming, and there never seemed to be any worries of anyone onstage trying to out-sing everyone else. Aside from the vocal blend, Vargas’ discretion in modulating his performance, working with Fleming rather than around or against her, was most gratifying.

With the darkest timbre of the three, Hvorostovsky, who just a week earlier also gave us a probing Yeletsky in The Queen of Spades, drew loud bravos after every single one of his arias, and for a change, the character actually seemed like Alfredo’s father (instead of say, his brother or a distant cousin). And in the crucial scene when Germont informs Violetta of the compromises she must consider, the interplay between Hvorostovsky and Fleming was quietly moving.

Yes, Zeffirelli’s Act II party scene reinstates the word "grand" in grand opera, although some might see more bordello than ballroom. Layers of enormous magenta-red lace curtains rise to frame a vast, high-ceilinged space filled with marble floors, gilt columns and statuary, huge paintings against red and brown walls, and clusters of milk-glass Victorian globe lights in different hues. The huge crowd of guests mill about – there are so many people in the scene that they can’t wander far – some wearing animal costumes and others wielding sticks with oversized Balthus-looking heads, and all festively dressed by Raimonda Gaetani in new takes on period attire. The dance sequence, nicely choreographed by Maria Benitez, had the Met’s squad hurling themselves about with feverish precision, perhaps inspired by the equally high temperature of the singing.

Gergiev has already demonstrated his rapport with Verdi, and I am probably one of the few who actually like his recent recording of the Requiem (some questionable casting issues aside for the moment). Last night the conductor seemed completely at home coursing through the score like a demon, and no doubt for many, rediscovering thrills that have all too often evaporated in the wake of over-familiarity. Over and over again, sequences sprang to life as they rarely do – the cast onstage singing with such verve, acting their guts out, and all encouraged by Gergiev’s swift pacing. The Met Orchestra, inspired all night, was particularly effective in some of the larger climaxes that, combined with the powerful singing, ripped through the house like a fireball.

As is known to many, Fleming was cautious approaching the role of Violetta, testing it out elsewhere, but seeing her in utterly thrilling form last night, it was hard to imagine that she could have had any doubts. At every opportunity, she surrendered herself to the role, sometimes hilariously, such as in Sempre libera, which she launched by wildly chugging a champagne glass over her shoulder in realistic inebriation. And in the touching final scene, when the bedridden Violetta mumurs to Alfredo to take her locket, Fleming seemed to find endless variety in the phrasing, right down to her ecstatic delusion as she rose from her bed to deliver that last cry, before the curtain slowly swallowed up the sad tableau.

Any artist – or group of artists – can have an off night, but not here, when this particular evening may be recalled later as one of those very special occasions when the stars align themselves properly. As the cast and Gergiev joined hands across the stage, I was cheering as loudly as anyone, as showers of torn program pages floated down from the balcony.

Bruce Hodges




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