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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata. Opera in three acts (1853)
Violetta Valery -  Ermonela Jaho (soprano); Flora - Aigul Akhmetshina (mezzo-soprano); Annina -  Catherine Carby (soprano); Alfredo Germont, - Charles Castronovo (tenor); Giorgio Germont - Placido Domingo (baritone) Gastone - Thomas Atkins (tenor); Doctor Grenvil -  Simon Shamambu (bass); Baron Douphol - Germane Alcantara (baritone)
Orchestra of The Royal Opera House, London/Antonello Manacorda
rec. live, 23 & 30 January 2019, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Original Director: Richard Eyre; Revival Director: Andrew Sinclair; Designer: Bob Crowley;
Television Director: Ross MacGibbon
Filmed in High Definition; Picture: 1080i/16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen;
Sound: LPCM Stereo/ DTS-HD MA 5.1; Region code: A, B, C
Subtitles in English, German, French, Japanese and Korean
OPUS ARTE Blu-ray OABD7260D [149 mins]

This new Opus Arte issue is the third commercial video release of Richard Eyre’s 1994 staging of La Traviata. The first cast featuring Angela Gheorghiu and Frank Lopardo under Sir Georg Solti were given a DVD release by Decca. In 2009 Opus Arte recorded a revival with Renée Fleming and Joseph Calleja, conducted by Antonio Pappano.  It is reassuring to know that Eyre’s thoughtful and believable staging still holds up well after 26 years; the sets and costumes look as good as they did in years past.

This revival featured Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho who brings much to the role of Violetta. Her deeply-impassioned dramatic skills are definitely an advantage and her petite build really makes her appear convincing as the frail French courtesan. She sings with a pleasing shimmering quality in her upper register but her voice frequently becomes cloudy in its lower regions. She gives us a treasurable “Ah forse lui” and manages a creditable, if not showstopping, rendition of “Sempre libera.”

Charles Castronovo is a handsome, virile Alfredo. His acting is sympathetic and he vocalises with a golden tone and a deep involvement in his role. In the third act he reaches a level of commitment to his character which is truly impressive. His singing in this act matches the level of his acting which is saying a lot.

Placido Domingo certainly looks the part of the elder Germont and he actually looks plausible as the father of Mr Castronovo.  His voice at this stage of his career has moments where it is still quite impressive but for most the role it is something of a trial to endure. In the first half of the scene with Violetta he tends to sing sharp of the note. He recovers later on but at times he appears to be physically struggling to produce the notes required. In “Un di quando le veneri” his phrasing is distinctly choppy and legato is virtually absent.  His rendition of “Di provenza il mar” begins a temporary improvement but then he comes to grief again in the cabaletta. This is not how I wish to remember his singing.

From among the smaller roles there is a wonderfully vivacious and golden-toned Flora from the young Russian mezzo Aigul Akhmetshina. I look forward to encountering her again. Antonello Manacorda conducts the Royal Opera House forces in a relatively swift and moving reading of Verdi’s score.

Unfortunately, this entire enterprise is all but ruined by a dreadful sound mix which stems from utilizing body microphones on all of the soloists. The voices are presented under a very harsh spotlight that has the effect of making the entire evening sound like a rock concert. While I understand that body mikes are essential for open air performances there is simply no reason for using them in an opera house. At one point in the second act, Ms. Jaho is clearly singing at extreme stage right, yet her voice remains firmly front and center. This is all so wrong, especially given the hundred and more years of accumulated knowledge in the classical recording industry about how to record the human voice.  As I write, I can hear legendary recording producer John Culshaw turning over in his grave.

There are a couple of interviews with the production team included in the DVD which perversely includes a few excerpts of the cast singing onstage in a much more flattering acoustic. I pulled out the Solti DVD to compare the sound quality with the current version; it really shows how badly managed this audio recording was. Sadly, for this reason I have to pass on this release.

Mike Parr



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