Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata
Violetta - Emma Matthews
Alfredo - Gianluca Terranova
Germont - Jonathan Summers
Flora - Margaret Plummer
Annina - Sarah Sweeting
Opera Australia Chorus
Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra/Brian Castles-Onion
Francesca Zambello (production director)
rec. Handa Opera, Sydney Harbour (Mrs Macquarie’s Point), March 2012
This DVD captures what was a new venture for Opera Australia in 2012. Going under the title of Handa Opera, the company put on a large-scale performance of La Traviata on a floating stage on Sydney Harbour with the cityscape forming a very impressive setting. At times it’s very impressive to look at, at times it’s hackneyed to the point of cliché, but you just might enjoy it, especially if you know Sydney.
Ever a sucker for marketing, it was the - slightly touched-up - cover photo that drew me to this DVD and, truth be told, it’s the setting that makes this Traviata both interesting and flawed. The backdrop of Sydney is stunning to see, with the floodlit Opera House and Harbour Bridge taking their place in the overall scheme. When I was lucky enough to go to a performance in the Sydney Opera House back in 2002, I thought to myself that no theatre in the world has a better view to take in during your interval drinks. You get much of that here, including the ferries steaming by, but you also get to see Jørn Utzon’s crazy creation itself. In fact, though, you don’t get to see much of the bridge and theatre: instead it’s the city skyscrapers that most often fill the backdrop, and their most prominent features are the lit-up advertisements for banks and hotels that are forever creeping in behind the singers’ heads! Bregenz it isn’t, but as a setting for a floating stage it’s not at all bad. The major disadvantage with a large-scale outdoor performance like this comes with the recorded sound which is necessarily boxy and artificial. The singers all wear radio-microphones and the orchestra is imprisoned below the stage, and the two are blended together to produce the sound from your DVD speaker. It’s limited, but you need to accept this and learn to live with it early on in the performance.
The performance itself is fine, if a little workaday in places. Emma Matthews is a very effective Violetta. She uses her lyrical voice to great effect, singing with ringing intensity and a good deal of beauty, pinging out the high notes and never showing any discomfort. She also manages to change the colour of her voice most effectively for the final act. The men aren’t as impressive. Gianluca Terranova is solid and has all the notes, but he’s a bit of a belter and doesn’t really know the meaning of subtlety, perhaps another consequence of the setting. Even the normally reliable Jonathan Summers is a bit off colour. He tends to attack the notes from below and in the high sections, such as Pura siccome un angelo, he sounds noticeably stretched.
Francesca Zambello’s production is both large-scale and sparse at the same time. The main stage is meant to be a gilt-edged mirror, representing the characters’ obsession with physical appearance, though I admit that this was lost on me. Costumes are fairly non-specific, though the matadors and gypsies at Flora’s party all look outrageous. The crowd scenes naturally work best, and the duets and arias tend to be a bit lost on the massive stage. Furthermore, the massive chandelier that overhangs the set looks very pretty but isn’t used very much at all, except perhaps as a great, clunking metaphor that is as subtle as Terranova’s singing. Zambello couldn’t resist letting off a tirade of fireworks at the end of the Brindisi and, more effectively, a single shot as Violetta dies. In fact, in an extremely vacuous interview in the extras she displays typical directorial modesty by claiming that fireworks will, from now on, be an essential part of La Traviata!
Make of all this what you will, but let’s be honest: this DVD will appeal in particular to those who were at the performance or those who know Sydney, and for one watch I enjoyed it. However, performances from Solti and Gheorghiu, or Pappano with Fleming, are safe on my shelves. Go into it this once with open eyes and you’ll probably enjoy it.
Simon Thompson
Go into it this once with open eyes and you’ll probably enjoy it.