Competition is getting
quite fierce in the Traviata DVD market, but this Zürich production
from last summer has a lot going for it. Much of the credit must
go to stage director Jürgen Flimm for his admirably clear-headed
production which allows the real drama, and thus the singers,
to take centre-stage, rather than hindering proceedings with
some half-baked modernist ‘concept’.
His stage designer
Erich Wonder has come up with a naturalistic, relatively simple
overall design, one that doesn’t compromise the lavishness of,
say, the opening scene at Violetta’s party, but which allows
the eye to concentrate on the singers. The only nod away from
Verdi’s intentions seems to be a slight updating to something
roughly Edwardian, though this is hardly a problem given the
subject matter. It does mean some of the costumes are a tad severe
compared to Zeffirelli’s Busseto production on TDK - Thomas Hampson
looks rather like he’s just come from a board meeting - but this
is in keeping with Flimm’s concentrated, no-nonsense approach,
and the blood red of Violetta’s dress against the dark backdrop
has an element of symbolism to it that is visually effective.
The other real glory
is the conducting and playing. Welser-Möst keeps things on the
move without short-changing us on the more tender moments, and
his orchestra is on superb form, with glowing strings in the
prelude and some beautifully balanced wind playing.
I’ve purposely left
the singers until last. It’s not that Eva Mei isn’t an excellent
artist – I greatly admired her Constanza on Mehta’s Die Entführung set
(TDK) – but there, and even more so here, she seems a mite robust
and matronly for the central heroine. One simply can’t believe,
just with the odd splutter and cough, that she’s consumptive,
especially when you behold the fragile, pale beauty of Stefania
Bonfadelli for Zeffirelli; she not only sings well but looks
perfect from the start. Still, Mei is in good voice despite a
slight beat starting to appear when she’s stretched above the
stave, and she is an accomplished actress, especially in the
wrought emotions of the final scene. Her pianissimo singing
is exceptional, and my reservations are not enough to spoil enjoyment
of the overall performance.
The men are excellent
in the vocal and acting departments. Hampson is a seasoned artist
and always gives good value, but here he really does show the
subtle change from bluffness to understanding of Violetta’s plight,
and the big garden scene in Act 2 is truly dramatic without histrionics.
His voice is rich and resonant throughout.
The tenor Piotr Beczala
was new to me but possesses a wonderfully rounded, thrilling
instrument with a dark, almost baritone quality in places. He
phrases intelligently and paces himself well through the evening.
All the ‘big’ moments are well served, and he never belts for
the sake of it, even in his Act 1 brindisi. Flimm has
obviously tried to coax some genuine feeling from him and the
last act really is moving, even if most of the credit must go
Sound and picture
quality really are first-rate, and the camerawork is subtle,
only switching from stage to pit in the preludes. Unlike their
Italian and American counterparts, the audience is reasonably
restrained in unnecessarily showing its appreciation during acts,
but a couple of the more famous moments do not escape.
I also have a slight
problem with the chorus, who sing well enough but seem, especially
in the important first act, to be constantly behind Welser-Möst’s
I’ve mentioned the
excellent Busseto DVD, which has a near-perfect Violetta but
less convincing men than this Zürich set, as well as less inspired
conducting from Placido Domingo. The production is more flamboyant,
as you would expect from Zeffirelli on home turf, but these productions
show contrasting approaches and are both valid. Also in the mix
is the now-famous Covent Garden set with Gheorghiu, Solti and
director Richard Eyre all on inspired form but slightly weaker
This Zürich production
is on a single DVD with no extras but a reasonable booklet and,
all things considered, must be given a strong recommendation.