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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
La Traviata (1853)
Libretto by Francesco Piave after Dumas
Violetta Valéry – Eva Mei (soprano)
Flora Bervoix – Katharina Peetz (mezzo)
Annina – Irène Friedli (mezzo)
Alfredo Germont – Piotr Beczala (tenor)
Giorgio Germont – Thomas Hampson (baritone)
Gastone – Miroslav Christoff (tenor)
Il Barone Douphol – Valeriy Murga (baritone)
Il Marchese D’Obigny – Reinhard Mayr (baritone)
Il Dottor Grenvil – Giuseppe Scorsin (bass)
Giuseppe – Noel Vazquez (tenor)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Zürich Opera House/Franz Welser-Möst
Stage Director – Jürgen Flimm
Stage Designer – Erich Wonder
TV Director – Felix Breisach
rec. Zürich Opera, 2005
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101 247 [128:00]
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 to Verdi.
 
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 beat.
 
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 Germonts.
 
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.
 
Tony Haywood
 

 



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