Damrau triumphs as Violetta

22 Apr

Traviata at the Royal Opera House is traditional, handsome, little that’s seriously unexpected and is a vehicle for individual stars to give their performances of the leading roles.  It keeps happy that part of the opera-going public that doesn’t like to be unsettled by productions.  It can hit and miss, depending on the cast.  This was my fifth visit in its 20 year history – Gheorgiu twice, Ansellem, Jaho (Netrebko cancelled…) and, now, Diana Damrau.  We see her too little at the Royal Opera House and I don’t think I’ve caught up with her since she did Gretel, before the world caught on to her talent.  So it was largely for her that I went to see the latest revival – the performance on 21st April.  It actually turned into rather a special evening.

Damrau is as good as the reviews say.  This was a wonderfully thought-through, gloriously sung, wholly individual Violetta.  As with all the best ones, she uses the words, understands them and means them.  She does the conversational passages really well – you feel that she’s talking to people and she colours the words with real intelligence. As she’s struggling to get up in the last act, the word “non posso” aren’t the usual burst of frustration, but sung softly, as if she can barely summon up the breath to speak.  She contrasts the brittle brilliance of the first act party with the sheer honesty of her duet with Germont.  You feel absolutely her love for Alfredo, the sense that she has no idea of how she will break the news to him and her huge desire to be accepted by him.  Dite alla giovine had an artless, honest, desperation about it, as if life was going completely blank.  And she sang Addio del passato with such attention to the words and the logic of the music that you felt the audience really listening – listening so hard that there was almost a surprise when it ended and a pause before the applause began.  Vocally, there wasn’t a weak or uncertain moment.  She made the part sound easy and real – there wasn’t an ugly or misplaced note all night, but the emotions came through movingly and true.  This was one of the Violettas that I’ll treasure, along with Cotrubas, Miriciou and Gheorghui (Netrebko was ill when I was meant to see her…) as being complete, outstanding interpretations.

I admired Francesco Demuro’s Romeo in Verona and he made a really excellent Alfredo here.  It’s not the largest voice in the world and he sounded stretched in those passages which needa bit of heft – the cabaletta to De miei bollenti spiriti, for example – but he can sing subtly and softly and with real tenderness.  I thought he did Un di felice and Parigi o cara wonderfully, with honesty, with glorious pianissimi and subtlety.  He looked good and presented a youthful, infatuated young man –  a really good foil to Damrau.  I hope he comes back.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky is an old hand at the elder Germont and a very, very good one.  It’s thoughtfully acted – you feel him unwillingly admiring Violetta,while he and Demuro suggested that there were all kind of things wrong with the father/son relationship here.  Vocally, I found him rather loud – he could have afforded to fine the voice down a bit more if only because it felt a little unbalanced with the others.  He sang Pura siccome un’angelo as well as we can expect and made the cabaletta to Di provenza so that it made sense.

Dan Ettinger’s conducting was not much liked by the reviewers and I know what they mean: he pulled the score about a lot, tempi suddenly lurched mid-phrase (the Act II finale was a particular example) and he sounded intent on under-scoring particular passage.  It didn’t all work but what I felt we had here was a very intelligent conductor looking at a score which it’s all too easy to take for granted.

Orchestra, chorus and other part were all strong without being anything particular to blog about, so I won’t

Richard Eyre’s production does its job very well.  There’s enough detail (Violetta asking a servant to bring Alfredo to her in the second scene of Act II) to convince you that someone has been thinking about it and enough freedom for great artists to bring their own qualities.  Bob Crowley’s sets manage to give you both the public and the private – the grandeur of the party scenes and the intimacy for the duets and the end.  It also enables performances that transcend the every day and, on its own terms, I thought the Traviata among the finest I’ve seen.  It’s worth catching and I hope that the management has taken the opportunity to sing her up for Elvira, Lucia and much, much more.



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