Robert Baxter reviews two new DVDs of La Traviata:
(1) Ciofi; Sacca, Hvorostovsky; Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Maazel. Production: Carsen. TDK DVWW OPLTLF, 146 mins, subtitled.
(2) Mei; Beczala, Hampson; Chorus and Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House, Welser-Moest. Production: Flimm. ArtHaus Musik 101 247. 125 mins, subtitled.
If you're looking for a Traviata that takes no risks, you'll find it in Zurich. On the other hand, if you want to be challenged, head for Venice.
Robert Carsen stirred up controversy when his sensational sex-and-money Traviata reopened La Fenice two years ago. Inspired by Verdi’s description of his opera as “a subject from our own time”, Carsen turns Violetta into a prostitute and anchors his concept in the 1960s, when sexual and social boundaries were collapsing. During the prelude, men toss dollars into Violetta’s hands as she reclines on an enormous bed. Act II plays out on a forest floor filled with greenbacks. Dollars float down as Germont forces Violetta to renounce his son. All the money disappears in Act III, played on a bare stage dominated by a scaffold and a TV set with a snowy picture.
Carsen fills the party scenes with hectic gaiety and blatant sexuality. Flora’s party takes place in a Vegas casino; cowboys and cowgirls in glittering costumes bump and grind their way across an elevated stage that provides a dramatic space for Alfredo’s denunciation of Violetta.
However you respond to Carsen’s concept, it’s hard not to relate to his cast. On a pair of stiletto heels yet displaying the grace of a ballerina, her gaunt body swathed in black lingerie, Patrizia Ciofi arrests attention with her haunting eyes and expressive hands. She sings intently, with instrumental purity of line and tone. In the double verses of Violetta’s arias -- the full score is performed, including music unheard since the 1853 premiere -- she manages to shade her tone in a constantly arresting manner.
This vivid Violetta gets the Alfredo and Germont she deserves. Roberto Sacca sings ardently and acts persuasively as the camera-toting Alfredo -- Carsen turns him into a photographer obsessed with Violetta’s face. Dressed in a double-breasted, pinstriped suit, Dmitri Hvorostovsky pours his plush baritone seamlessly through Germont’s music. Lorin Maazel leads a big, if at times ponderous, reading of the score, but the orchestra and chorus are finely honed.
[I omit the rest of the review, which talks about the Zurich Traviata.]