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Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
La Traviata - melodrama in three acts (1853, rev. 1854)
Violetta Valéry - Angela Gheorghiu (soprano)
Alfredo Germont - Ramón Vargas (tenor)
Giorgio Germont - Roberto Frontali (baritone)
Flora Bervoix - Natascha Petrinsky (soprano)
Annina - Tiziana Tramonti (mezzo)
Gastone - Enrico Cossutta (tenor)
Barone Douphol - Alessandro Paliaga (baritone)
Marchese d’Obigny - Piero Terranova (bass)
Dottor Grenvil - Luigi Roni (bass)
Domestico di Flora - Giuseppe Nicodemo (bass)
Commissionario - Ernesto Panarielo (bass)
Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet of the Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Lorin Maazel
rec. live, Teatro alla Scala di Milano, 2007
Directed: Liliana Cavani
Revival: Marina Bianchi
Chorus-Master: Bruno Casoni
Set Design: Dante Ferretti
Costumes: Gabriella Pescucci
Choreography: Micha van Hoecke
Video and TV director: Paola Longobardo
Sound formats: a) DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1ch 48kHz; b) Stereo LPCM 2.0ch 48kHz/24 bit
Menu language: English
Subtitle languages: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish
Picture format: 16:9
Region Code: 0
Resolution 1080i - Full High Definition<
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101342 Blu-ray [132.00 + 70.00 of clips]

Reissued on Blu-ray this live 2007 La Scala production of La traviata stars Angela Gheorghiu. We see Marina Bianchi's revival of Liliana Cavani’s traditional production first staged in 1990. Fittingly it was the role of Violetta Valéry that propelled the Romanian soprano Gheorghiu to international stardom in 1994. Gheorghiu’s 1994 portrayal as Violetta in Richard Eyre’s polished ROH staging has been captured for posterity on a Decca DVD.

Much loved, even venerated by opera lovers La traviata (The fallen woman) is probably Verdi’s most popular opera although initially it was one of his few failures. The three act opera is set to Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto and based on the play La Dame aux camélias adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas Jr. Verdi’s moving score contains all the elements necessary for operatic prominence. Set amid grand Parisian party scenes the scenario follows the most unsuitable and ill-fated liaison between the suave nobleman Alfredo Germont who is infatuated with the beautiful heroine Violetta, a courtesan dying from consumption.

Given the eternal popularity of Verdi’s score it is not surprising or uncommon that many directors want to ‘freshen the proceedings. In 2014 I had the misfortune to attend a dire production by the Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, Berlin. Director Peter Mussbach’s bewildering staging required the audience to strain their eyes and patience watching the opera — and its sparse scenery — through hessian sacking. This covered the whole of the front of the stage (the proscenium arch) including the orchestra pit across which video images, mainly lines, were occasionally hurled.

Unquestionably satisfying to level-headed traditionalists the present Cavani/Bianchi production sets La traviata firmly in mid-19th century Paris utilising the whole La Scala stage. With a long banqueting table, a row of crystal chandeliers, a stunning grand staircase and a sensitively laid-out courtesan’s bedroom this tasteful period set design by Dante Ferretti delivers considerable impact and plenty of pleasing detail. Striking are the elegant period-costumes worn by the principals and cast, a credit to designer Gabriella Pescucci.

Here Angela Gheorghiu captivates in her signature role and although one reads of a number of La Scala detractors present it feels as if she has a good number of the audience in the palm of her hand. Whilst maybe not as tonally fresh this is a more mature performance than her 1994 debut as Violetta at the ROH. Improving in quality as the opera progresses the listener is drawn into her portrayal - one of real emotional intensity. Her liquid phrasing and dark and rich timbre is striking as is her secure display of coloratura. Despite the number of times Gheorghiu has sung the courtesan Violetta bolstered by impressive acting she always manages to be utterly convincing as the complex opera character. Whilst not the greatest Alfredo Germont that has ever taken to the stage Mexican Ramón Vargas is on his usually reliable form displaying a strongly projected, distinctive and reasonably expressive voice. My only qualm concerns that rarely achieved sexual chemistry between Violetta and Alfredo. It never quite ignites here.

Going by audience applause Roberto Frontali in the part of Giorgio Germont is clearly admired. Immaculately attired in a brown frockcoat the Roman baritone’s voice is reasonably secure, focused and projected quite well, yet he seems ill at ease with his acting. My benchmark has to be Leo Nucci’s portrayal in Gheorghiu’s 1994 famous ROH production. On the other hand tenor Enrico Cossutta as Alfredo’s friend Gastone loves the camera and the camera loves him. Excelling throughout Cossutta’s clear, steadfast vocal and confident stage presence would be hard to better in this role. Shining in the smaller roles Luigi Roni makes a stylish and reliable Dottor Grenvil and Natascha Petrinsky, elegant throughout, gives a splendid portrayal of Violetta’s friend Flora. In fact the lesser roles are so well cast it is hard to find a weak link.

Under Lorin Maazel’s baton the playing of the Teatro alla Scala di Milano is first class throughout together with an impressive contribution from the chorus. Without disrupting the flow Maestro Maazel astutely makes sufficient gaps at the end of the arias for audience applause. Entertaining Violetta’s guest at the grand party the Spanish gypsies and picadors played by the La Scala ballet corps is magnificently enjoyable and such a colourful spectacle. I understand that the audience at La Scala
was not always too happy about various aspects of this production with criticism aimed mainly at Maazel.

Concentrating entirely on the stage action Paola Longobardo’s video direction is generally excellent employing cameras actively to avoid viewer fatigue and monotony. We do not get to see any orchestral players in the pit although there are some rapid shots of Maestro Maazel during beginning and close of the acts. The only views of the audience seen are those in the side boxes during the ovation at the end of the production. The sound formats employed on this Blu-ray disc are a choice of Stereo LPCM 2.0ch 48kHz/24 bit and Surround Sound DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. These have been engineered to a satisfying level of quality being clear with a pleasing balance between singers and orchestra. On my system the 1080i High Definition picture is sharply defined with satisfying colour rendering.

Overall the disc presentation from Arthaus Musik is poor. Disappointingly there is no booklet essay; only a synopsis and printed track-listing on the rear cover insert of the plastic case. This has to be carefully removed if you want to read it. Originally released in 2010 what we have here is the 2015 reissue. It contains an ‘exclusive bonus feature’ that amounts to just over seventy minutes of advertising clips of opera and ballet from the Arthaus Musik Blu-ray catalogue.

Treasurable and powerfully charged, Cavani’s staging as revived by Marina Bianchi deserves great praise. It makes for a solid first recommendation on Blu-ray.

Michael Cookson

Previous review (DVD): Robert McKechnie


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