By Lynne Gray, PhD
Note: This performance can be seen at www.metopera.org. Please note the companion essay published alongside this from their April 24th performance.
Monday, June 22
Verdi’s La Traviata ~ 2Hrs 21 Mins
Starring Sonya Yoncheva, Michael Fabiano, and Thomas Hampson, conducted by Nicola Luisotti. From March 11, 2017.
Few operatic figures are as beloved as Violetta (we’ve already seen Damrau [March 19] and Dessay [April 24] perform the role), so this is the Met’s Quarantine Traviata #3! Violetta is the self-sacrificing and seriously ill heroine of Verdi’s classic tragedy – she is the embodiment of the fun-loving courtesan with a heart of gold who suddenly chooses true love over the pleasures and riches of her glamourous Parisian life, and then sacrifices everything for the sake of her lover Alfredo’s sister, a young woman she has never even met. Verdi’s score is certainly one of opera’s greatest expressions of the themes of love and loss.
This time we have Yoncheva (so far we’ve seen her as Tosca, Luisa Miller, and Desdemona) in Willy Decker’s Symbolist production (the same one we saw with Dessay and Polenzani in April). It sets the action on a nearly bare stage, focusing the audience’s attention on the three main characters. American tenor Michael Fabiano sings with ardent longing as her devoted lover Alfredo, delivering an emotional performance phrases with ringing top notes. Thomas Hampson (we saw him as Athanaël in Thaïs) brings his excellent, burnished baritone to Germont, Alfredo’s protective father whose demands spell disaster for them all. On the podium, maestro Nicola Luisotti leads a moving performance of Verdi’s unforgettable score.
For the story, please see my article of April 24th. Beyond that, I can only say, if you love Traviata, see it again. If you love Verdi, see it again. A perfect cast almost never comes along, but each cast brings something different – even to the same production – and this one lasted 15 years before the Met retired it and brought in a far prettier, although still single-set, version by Michael Mayer, Christine Jones and Susan Hilferty that was streamed on March 19th with Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez.
As productions go, I am not a particular fan of the Willy Decker version, although I loved the original in Salzburg in 2005 with Netrebko and Villazon when they were 15 years younger and madly in love with each other – it was absolutely marvelous. I like both Dessay’s and Damrau’s Violetta far better than Yoncheva’s – who just didn’t do it for me in this role. I like both Flórez’s and Fabiano’s Alfredo better than Polenzani’s. I like Thomas Hampson’s and Hvorostovsky’s Germont better than Quinn Kelsey’s, although the differences aren’t that big. So – if it’s Violetta you care about, this is my least favorite of the Met’s three so far. Fabiano and Hampson are both very good, but sadly not good enough to make me want to watch it for the third time in as many months. You will have to be the judge for yourself.
1. Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
2. Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta and Michael Fabiano as Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata. Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
The Met Streams La Traviata Friday, April 24
By Lynne Gray, PhD
This performance can be seen on www.metopera.org from 4:30 PM Reno time for 23 hours.
Friday, April 24
Verdi’s La Traviata ~ 2Hrs and 16Mins
Starring Natalie Dessay, Matthew Polenzani, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From April 14, 2012.
Willy Decker’s modern, symbolist interpretation of Verdi’s tragic drama (featuring the famous “red dress”) stars the inimitable Natalie Dessay as our doomed heroine, Violetta (hope you didn’t miss her comic genius in Daughter of the Regiment). Her idealistic (and in this case, not so) young lover, Alfredo Germont, is sung by the smooth voiced tenor, Matthew Polenzani, and the great Dmitri Hvorostovsky plays his father, Giorgio Germont. Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi is on the podium.
Like Adriana Lecouvreur a few nights ago, this tragedy is based on an actual historical person. Alexandre Dumas’ (fils – actually the son of the author of The Three Musketeers) famous play, La Dame aux Camélias was a product of the author’s own youthful affair with the celebrated courtesan, Marie Duplessis, known as a sophisticated and particularly well-read woman whose accomplishments far surpassed her station in life. Marie Duplessis died of tuberculosis at the age of 23 on 3 February 1847. No intrigue or poisoned violets, here, simply good old-fashioned consumption!
This production of La Traviata – literally, “the fallen woman” – begins with a huge clock on stage that is symbolically ticking down the remaining moments of Violetta’s life. If you’ve always wondered what opera Julia Roberts was so moved by in the movie Pretty Woman – this is the one! So, you might want to give it a try. From the lovers’ first meeting with the spirited Brindisi (drinking song) that opens the first act (you also hear this one before every Met live in HD broadcast to movie theaters), to the gorgeous duet Un dì, felice, eterea in the middle of the act, to the famed (and famously difficult) soprano aria Sempre libera – “Always free” at the end of the act, you will be treated to an amazing range of virtuosic Verdi melodies – and that’s just the first act!
By the second act, the lovers have left Paris and are enjoying their short-lived bliss on a country estate outside the city. Alfredo first sings of his love in the famous Lunge da lei, and then, when he finally finds out from Annina, the maid, that Violetta has pawned all of her jewels to support their life style, he sings the showcase cabaletta O mio rimorso and vows to make things right. While he runs off to do that, his father Giorgio calls at the house to demand of Violetta that she leave Alfredo because their affair is ruining his family’s reputation and his daughter’s chances to make a good marriage (yep – pretty much the same story to this point as La Rondine last week).
Rondine and Traviata part ways with the heart- wrenching interchange between Giorgio and Violetta which convinces her she must leave Alfredo, even though she realizes as she agrees to it, that she must make Alfredo hate her in order to accomplish it. She leaves for Paris and her former patron, Barone Douphol. Giorgio cannot comfort his son and, looking for revenge, Alfredo follows her that evening to the salon of her friend Flora where he wins a great deal of money from the Barone and then publicly shames Violetta by throwing it in her face and saying he has repaid his debt.
In the final act we find the heart-broken Violetta on her death bed – alone except for the faithful Annina. Giorgio Germont has finally told Alfredo of Violetta’s great sacrifice for their family and they are now both on their way back to join her – but too late, of course. As we know, soprano deaths tend to take an entire act – but this one is particularly beautiful – as well as particularly moving, especially in the final duet, Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo – “We will leave Paris, O beloved”). Kleenex highly recommended!
1. Natalie Dessay with Champagne bottles and party guests in Willy Decker’s production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit…Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
2. Natalie Dessay and Matthew Polenzani as Violetta and Alfredo at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Met. Photo Credit…Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
3. Natalie Dessay as Violetta and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Giorgio Germont at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Met. Photo Credit…Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
4. Natalie Dessay as Violetta and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Giorgio Germont in Act 3 at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Met. Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
5. Natalie Dessay and Matthew Polenzani at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Met. Photo credits: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.