Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata - Opera in Three Acts (1853)
Violetta Valéry - Renée Fleming
Alfredo Germont - Joseph Calleja
Giorgio Germont - Thomas Hampson
Flora Bervoix - Monika Evelin-Liiv
Marquis D’Obigny - Kostas Smoriginas
Baron Douphal - Eddie Wade
Doctor Grenvil - Richard Wiegold
Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Antonio Pappano
rec. live, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 27 and 30 June 2009
OPUS ARTE DVD OA 1040 D [154:00]

There is no doubt who is the star of this Royal Opera House production. Renée Fleming once again proves she is not only one of the world’s greatest divas but also a consummate actress. She holds this less than perfect production together with her natural expressive performance shining through every scene. This is sustained from initial rapture as she falls for Alfredo’s ardour, through to the ecstasy, sacrifice and suffering of Act II and her anguished death scene in Act III. The voice has lost none of its lustre. She is supported by a rather wooden and not very romantic-looking Joseph Caleja as Alfredo who nevertheless is strongly passionate in voice; and the threatening presence of Thomas Hampson as Alfredo’s stern, unbending father; his Act II aria ‘Di Provenza il mar’ as he comforts his son after he has compelled Violetta to leave him is particularly moving.

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. Later, a furious Alfredo, unaware of his father’s meddling, confronts the hapless Violetta in a gambling hall throwing his winnings in her face and provoking a duel with her erstwhile protector the Baron. Act III brings a lovers’ reconciliation but by now Violetta’s consumption has reached its final stage and she dies in Alfredo’s arms.

The sets of this Covent Garden production are somewhat minimal. The lighting, except in Act II Scene 1 is subdued. The Act I party scene is a plain rotunda, Act II Scene 1’s love nest is spartan and hardly romantic, looking little more than a kitchen; Act II, Scene 2 fares a little better with a more imaginative spacious backcloth and a large central gaming table on which the gypsy dancers disport themselves at the beginning of the action. The Act III set is again minimal with high shuttered windows. It presents a rather too stark atmosphere with blood-drenched pillows and nightdress.

Violetta’s Act I full party gown is gorgeous, all white and floating with golden stars motifs. The rest of the ladies’ costumes are contrastingly restrained as they are throughout the production. Taken together with the downbeat sets there is a sense of pervasive melancholy that weighs down the production robbing it of sufficient dramatic contrast.

I have to say that overall though I prefer Zeffirelli’s Traviata (TDK DVD Video DV-OPLTR) that I reviewed on this site in February 2003. Zeffirelli is concerned with a natural expression of Verdi’s opera – and Alexander Dumas (fils)’ story. He directs the set designs, lighting, costumes as well as the acting. The costumes are gorgeous - one of this DVD’s features demonstrates Zeffirelli’s remarkably detailed knowledge of the costumes of the period. The beautifully lit sets make best use of the stage with a rotating middle section. Pappano directs the Covent Garden Orchestra with passion and conviction.

Renée Fleming triumphs but this Covent Garden production is less than perfect.

Ian Lace

Renée Fleming triumphs but this Covent Garden production is less than perfect.