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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL OPERA REVIEW
Verdi, La Traviata: Soloists, Orchester und Chor Deutsche Oper Berlin. Conductor: Yves Abel. Berlin Deutsche Oper. 6. 2.2011 (JMI)
Production: Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Direction: Götz Friedrich.
Sets: Frank Philipp Schlössmann.
Costumes: Klaus Bruns.
Ligting: Ulrich Niepel.
Violeta: Anja Harteros
Alfredo: Pavel Cernoch
Germont: Markus Brück
Flora: Jana Kurucova
Annina: Martina Welschenbach
Doctor Grenvil: Ben Wager
Gaston: Thomas Blondelle
Douphol: Lenus Carlson
Obigny: Sergio Vitale
My stay in Berlin came to an end with this Traviata which initially offered nothing less than both Anja Harteros and Simon Keenlyside in its cast. Unfortunately cancellations also take place in Berlin and the English baritone cancelled due to illness. Thanks be to God, Anja Harteros did not.
This production is one of the last works by German stage director Götz Friedrich and was premiered in 1999, one year before his death in December 2000: this was its 96th performance at the Deutsche Oper. I had the opportunity to see it 8 years ago and then I did not like it. I still am not excited by it, but at least I am not as critical as I was because in the past 8 years I have seen so many bad productions that this Traviata has come to seem almost attractive. The set(s) consists of a single staging in the form of a big room surrounded by huge doors. In the second act the doors at the back are opened to show some trees, and we see the Germonts, father and daughter. Costumes are particularly attractive and the lighting works well, particularly in the last act. Friedrich’s actual stage direction is not his best work though, since the opera is portrayed as a series of Violeta’s flash – backs while she lies on her death bed during the prelude - not exactly an original idea. There are also some strange details, such as the departure of the guests form Violeta’s party, who leave with some quite absurd dance steps. The chorus of bohemians and bullfighters at Flora’s party are also clearly below par, since the music needs there to be dancers on stage. Lastly, the idea of showing Germont’s daughter on stage was not too brilliant either, since she was much too childish to be credible. All in all, this added up to just one more Traviata.
Canadian Yves Abel is a quite familiar conductor in this house and his reading of the score was perfectly solid, without being truly outstanding. He gave very good support to the singers on stage, never covering their voices and to his credit, he gave us both the tenor and baritone cabalettas in Act II, although with only one verse. There was a good performance from the orchestra and nothing at all to object to from Deutsche Oper’s wonderful chorus.
Anja Harteros as Violeta received a spectacular and well-deserved personal triumph. It has been said and written more times than I care to remember that Traviata needs three sopranos to do justice to the demands of the score but in Anja Harteros’ case one will do very nicely. She has everything: lightheartedness in the first act, lyricism in the second and dramatic emotion for the third. We only missed the high E in "Sempre Libera" but my experience of that is is that if we get this note, Violeta almost always loses most of her interest afterwards.
To my mind, Anja Harteros is the best possible Violeta today and the best in a long time - not necessarily the most famous of course, but still the best for me. I have seen lots of Violetas in my time but I assure you that none as good as this. She displays exceptional qualities in the role: she’s an excellent singer with a beautiful and powerful voice besides being a superb actress, able to move and entire audience through her artistry and commitment. This is a great Violeta from a great soprano in her prime.
Alfredo was Czech tenor Pavel Cernoch, whom I had not seen before and whose presence in this cast was somewhat surprising, because he is not the usual type of tenor for Berlin. He’s a lyric tenor with a pleasant voice, perhaps slightly small in sheer volume, but he cuts an attractive figure on stage. After an uncertain start in “Libiamo” and a not too convincing aria, he attacked the cabaletta vigorously ending in a bright high C. His performance improved by leaps and bounds in the second part of the opera, both in the ensemble at the end of Act II and in his excellent duet with Violeta, "Parigi, o cara".
As I said above Simon Keenlyside cancelled and he was replaced by Markus Brück, whom I had just seen in the character of Maurice in Respighi’s Marie Victoire. This German baritone does not offer a truly Verdian voice, but he is not so far away from one. He is an excellent singer, elegant and convincing in the duet with Violeta, and quite good also at "Di Provenza". He is in fact a remarkable baritone, who has just been honoured as “Berlin Kammersänger".
In the secondary characters I liked mezzo Jana Kurucova as Flora. Martina Welschenbach was also a good Annina. Ben Wager was a decent Doctor Grenvil. The rest were fairly modest.
The theatre was completely sold out and there was a huge triumph for Anja Harteros to whom the audience gave a literal standing ovation. She was a great singer and an excellent colleague, since the although the cheers were obviously for her, after her first solo bows, she insisted on having the rest of the cast along with her. Markus Brück was deservedly cheered also. The final applause lasted a good 11 minutes.
José Mª Irurzun