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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Travíata - Opera in three Acts
Violetta Valéry - Stefania Bonfadelli (soprano)
Alfredo Germont - Scott Piper (tenor)
Giorgio Germont - Renato Bruson (baritone)
Flora Bervoix - Annely Peebo (mezzo-soprano)
Annina - Paola Leveroni (soprano)
Baron Douphol - Ezio Maria Tisi (baritone)
Gastone, Visconte di Letorières - Cristian Ricci (tenor)
Marquis d’Obigny - Andrea Snarsky (bass)
Dr Grenvil - Gastone Sarti
Director and Set Designer: Franco Zeffirelli
Orchestra and Chorus of Fondazione Arturo Toscanini conducted by Plácido Domingo
[Special features: Making of "La Traviata", Clips and Interviews]
Recorded at the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, Busseto, February 2002
TDK DVD Video DV-OPLTR [Opera: 139 mins. Features: 66 mins]

This Zeffirelli production of Verdi’s ever-popular, melodic opera was filmed in February 2002, in Busseto, near Parma, Italy, close to the composer’s home and birthplace. Zeffirelli had filmed La Traviata before, in 1982. The Italian film director whose credits include: The Taming of the Shrew (1966); Romeo and Juliet (1968); Jesus of Nazareth (TV) (1977); Othello (1986); and, more recently, Tea with Mussolini (1999), began his professional career as a stage director.

The story of the opera concerns the plight of Violetta a mid-19th century Parisian courtesan who is dying of consumption (tuberculosis). She responds to the ardent love of the young Alfredo but sacrifices him when his father, Giorgio pleads that their love will ruin his daughter’s happiness and his son’s career.

Leaving the musicality of the opera to conductor, Plácido Domingio, Zeffirelli is here concerned with a natural expression of Verdi’s opera – and Alexander Dumas (fils)’ story. Thus Zeffirelli directs the set designs, lighting, costumes as well as the acting. (One of this DVD’s features demonstrates his remarkably detailed knowledge of the costumes of the period.)

Seldom has this melodrama seemed so sincere, so true. Stefania Bonfadelli as Violetta really does look consumptive. Zeffirelli coaxes finely shaded, subtle acting from her to match her considerable vocal talents - her finely tuned expressiveness as she passes through enthusiastic indulgence in Parisian society’s hedonistic pleasures, through initial cynical doubt about the sincerity of Alfredo’s love, to submission to headlong passion, to stoical acceptance that she must lose him, and despair and desperation to recapture his love as death approaches. She is particularly impressive through the demands of Act III in which she scarcely ceases singing. The acting of American tenor, Scott Piper, gains stature as the production progresses. This is after a rather hesitant opening introducing the famous drinking song, the ‘Brindisi’. He portrays Alfredo as rather unhealthily impulsive and obsessive. Veteran Renato Bruson as Giorgio Germont is a commanding presence and his Act II aria ‘Di Provenza il mar’ draws prolonged applause. Domingo has sung in sixteen Verdi operas and has conducted twelve. He brings a valuable singer’s insight into his expansive and vibrant musical direction.

Zeffirelli’s stage direction insists that the chorus’s movements must be logical and realistic as though little acts of teasing and passion were progressing in the ballroom and party scenes and in the colourful Act III merrymakers’ scene where gypsies sing to Spanish rhythms complete with castanets and tambourines. The beautifully lit sets make best use of the stage with a rotating middle section and soft gauzy drapes. Stiffer translucent material allows maximum spatial and perspective effects.

The DVD’s features cover all aspects of the production in some detail. Zeffirelli is shown visiting the Verdi’s house. Domingo and Scott Piper are interviewed. He and Bonfadeli are shown in rehearsal. There is much more.

Zeffirelli’s La Traviata is a feast for the eye and Domingo draws first class performances from his orchestra, chorus and cast – particularly Stefania Bonfadeli who is outstanding – a most appealing and sympathetic Violetta. Renato Bruson is a proud yet ultimately human Giorgio Germont. Above all there is Verdi’s gorgeous music, one beautiful melody flowing on from another

Ian Lace

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