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La Traviata

Angela Gheorghiu, Frank Lopardo, Leo Nucci; Royal Opera House Orchestra & Chorus/Sir Georg Solti
DECCA DVD 071 431-9 [135 min] (All Regions NTSC disc)
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First reflections About DVDs by S&H's inveterate opera-goers were reported in January. This historic performance, captured on video for TV in 1994, comes across with the stamp of a vivid and special live event. The young Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu was tackling Traviata for the first time and -incredibly- Solti was conducting it for the first time towards the end of his long career. Gheorghiu sounds nervous at her first appearance in the opening scene, rather than it being a calculated display of the doomed, consumptive heroine's vulnerable frailty. Her vibrato in the party scene after the Prelude is too edgy and tense in her display aria as the experienced and sophisticated Parisian society courtesan. I wondered if the microphone was exaggerating it, which can happen in the cases of performances which sound convincing in the opera house. No, for all settled down within a few minutes, Gheorghiu relaxed in her singing and her characterisation was subtle and detailed throughout, under Richard Eyre's traditional, but carefully observed, own operatic debut.

The other lead singers are very adequate, if not memorable in their own right - but this, more than nearly any other in the operatic canon of favourites, is a one woman opera. Verdi, however, makes huge demands upon the sensibility of his conductors, and Solti is here at his inspiring best, lyrical and urgently thrusting forward as required, the orchestra sounding marvellous supporting the singers and when it takes over as protagonist. It is also a great pleasure to have the short visual samples of Solti conducting the preludes to the acts; I still have some reservations about watching conductors through complete orchestral concerts on video & DVD, but here I felt the proportion was exactly right, and Solti in action, whether performing or talking, is always invigorating to watch.

The sound is splendid played on my new Sony DVD player and Hi-Fi system and, essentially theatrical though Traviata is, it works well watched on a small screen at home, so that one becomes involved and absorbed in Angela/Violetta's renunciation of true love and her ultimate fate. It is a valuable and moving memento of an important moment in the career of this now adored young diva, who is a popular favourite at the turn of the Millennia.

The colour is fine, but one important point of warning. Viewing Decca's Traviata on either of my two Sony TVs (one elderly, the other brand new) I was only able to see this DVD (and another, of Rosenkavalier, released by DG) in black and white - actually, I found that perfectly satisfactory, with a good range of greys, as in the best b&w film or still photography, but AW felt deprived without colour, and so, I guess, would many readers!

It took a lot of experimentation to ascertain that neither the DVD machine nor the DVD discs were faulty, as first suspected, and that to cope with these DVDs from Universal the purchase of another TV set has to be the solution - there had been no problems with a number of Arthaus DVDs already reviewed. The explanation can be found on p.7 of the insert booklet; these NTSC DVDs (whatever that means) can only be played on "PAL/NTSC compatible (dual-standard)" DVD machines and TVs.

So S&H readers wondering whether to embark upon augmenting their CD playing equipment with DVD capability may be wise to explore carefully the expenditure required in their individual cases if they want to be able to play all the music DVDs which are likely to be purchasable in UK.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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