Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

Tosca in San Francisco

Yet another Tosca is hardly exciting news, if news at all. The current five performances have come just two years after SFO alternated divas Angela Gheorghiu and Patricia Racette in the title role.

Antonin Dvořák: The Cunning Peasant (Šelma Sedlák)

What an enjoyable opportunity to encounter Dvořák’s sixth opera, Šelma Sedlák¸or The Cunning Peasant!

Idomeneo, Royal Opera

Whether biblical parable or mythological moralising, it’s all the same really: human hubris, humility, sacrifice and redemption.

Donizetti’s Les Martyrs — Opera Rara, London

Opera Rara brought a rare performance of Donizetti’s first opera for the Paris Opera to the Royal Festival Hall on 4 November 2014, following recording sessions for the opera.

Luca Pisaroni in San Diego

Bass baritone, Luca Pisaroni, known to opera lovers throughout the world for his excellence in Mozart roles, offered San Diego vocal aficionados a double treat on October 28th: his mellifluous voice, and a recital of German songs.

La bohème, ENO

Jonathan Miller’s production of La bohème for ENO, shared with Cincinnati Opera, sits uneasily, at least as revived by Natascha Metherell, between comedy and tragedy.

Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall - Liszt, Strauss and Schubert

Any Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau performance is superb, but this Wigmore Hall recital surprised, too. Boesch's Schubert is wonderful, but this time, it was his Liszt and Strauss songs which stood out. This year at the Wigmore Hall, we've heard a lot of Liszt and a lot of Richard Strauss everywhere, establishing high standards, but this was special.

Wexford Festival 2014

The weather was auspicious for Wexford Festival Opera’s first-night firework display — mild, clear and calm. But, as the rainbow rockets exploded over the River Slaney, even bigger bangs were being made down at the quayside.

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

Syracuse Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ bubbles over with fun, laughter and irresistible music

The company uncorks its 40th Anniversary season with a visually and musically satisfying production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s farcical operetta

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
26 Jun 2009

La Traviata at Royal Opera House

Four years have passed since the most celebrated American soprano of recent times, Renée Fleming, graced the stage at Covent Garden, in Elijah Moshinsky’s classic production of Otello.

Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata

Violetta: Renée Fleming; Alfredo Germont: Joseph Calleja; Giorgio Germont: Thomas Hampson; Baron Douphol: Eddie Wade; Doctor Grenvil: Richard Wiegold; Flora: Monika-Evelin Liiv; Marquis D'Obigny: Kostas Smoriginas; Gastone: Haoyin Xue; Annina: Sarah Pring; Servant: Jonathan Coad; Giuseppe: Neil Gillespie; Messenger: Charbel Mattar. The Royal Opera. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Director: Richard Eyre. Designs: Bob Crowley. Performance of Monday 22 June 2009.

Above: Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera House

 

So, anticipation and expectancy were running high at this performance, the second of seven, of La Traviata. Could Fleming bring the authority, emotional passion and musical intensity which characterised her Desdemona to Verdi’s dazzling courtesan-turned-angelic sacrificial-victim?

Sir Richard Eyre’s 1994 production has had countless revivals with numerous divas in the title role (and it’s scheduled for two more showings next season), but Fleming and the rest of the cast benefitted from the director’s own, and first, return to his conception. A traditional staging, this production convinces throughout, Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes raising many a gasp and round of applause. The assemblage of the sets did, however, necessitate two long intervals but the lavish designs were worth the wait — and, inadvertently, allowed the inter-act diners to avoid indigestion.

Hampson_Germont_ROH.gifThomas Hampson as Giorgio Germont

A frisson went through the audience when Fleming made her glittering entry, sweeping into the sumptuous, somewhat crowded, salon where revellers drifted and twirled around the sparkling ice-sculpture. But the audience were made to wait for the trademark golden, floating tone: Fleming was rather restrained and hesitant, holding back throughout the first act, negotiating rather than relishing the demands of the coloratura fireworks in ‘Sempre libera’. She compensated for her musical caution with exuberant dramatic gestures, flinging back the doors of the salon to hurl her words contemptuously at those who judge her, tossing ice defiantly around the room, and coughing loudly to foreshadow her demise. Fleming seemed a little unhappy with Pappano’s tempi and, surprisingly, her voice lacked depth and beauty in places, but she relaxed in the subsequent act and the audience were rewarded for their patience with singing of outstanding, velvety warmth, poise and pathos. Fleming moved effortlessly between soaring pianissimi and impassioned exhortations: as satisfying a demonstration of the meaning of bel canto as one could wish for.

A dilapidated mirror leaning haphazardly against the flaking wall, cast a sombre shadow over the now-bare stage for the famous death scene. Singing with sublime beauty and tender radiance, Fleming held the audience spellbound. ‘Prendi: quest’è l’immagine’, in which Violetta selflessly frees Alfredo to love another, was exquisitely poignant. Sadly, however, the final moments jarred somewhat. Violetta’s momentary resurgence of physical health, a false respite from suffering, was cleverly illuminated with a surge of light as Fleming sang ‘Rinasce’ (‘I'm reborn’), accompanied by a rising scale of pulsing urgency. But, rather than simply collapsing, overcome and exhausted by the intensity of this moment of joy, Fleming rushed around the room, grasping each astounded onlooker and informing them individually of her recovery. Then she fell to the floor, dead. This was an unfortunately anticlimactic end to an otherwise superb interpretation.

Joseph Calleja as Alfredo Germont and Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry

Fleming’s partner, in the role of Alfredo, was the Maltese tenor, Joseph Calleja. He more than matched her musical mastery. Possessing a sweet, smooth voice, he sustained an Italianate warmth and took the Alfredo’s rigorous cabaletta, ‘O mio rimorso’, in his stride, although surprisingly he offered us only one verse. Calleja is not a natural actor, and the chemistry between him and Fleming was lacking in potency, but he inhabited the role with increasing conviction as the opera progressed, and in Act 2 his anger and bitterness were truly shocking as he hurled his gambling winnings at Violetta.

There was no weak link among the central trio. As Germont - the bourgeois father who disapproves of his son’s paramour - Thomas Hampson commanded the stage, immediately establishing his stern authority. He used his flexible baritone in his second-act aria, ‘Di Provenza’, to reveal the hypocrisy of this domineering emblem of wealth and respectability and his domineering cruelty — he brutally pushes Alfredo to the ground - while also hinting at the genuine regret which troubles his soul.

Wade_Fleming_Traviata_ROH.gifEddie Wade as Baron Douphol and Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry

This stunning triumvirate put every ounce of energy, focus, musicality and dramatic commitment to their task. And they were supported by some fine singing by Jette Parker Young Artists present and past in the minor roles, Monika-Evelin Liiv (Flora), Kostas Smoriginas (Marquis D’Obigny) and Haoyin Xue (Gastone de Letorières). As Annina, Sarah Pring was dramatically feisty and musically sure. The chorus, too, were in typically fine form, most notably in the Act 2 gambling scene — stunningly lit from above in complementary reds and greens — where the gypsy girls frolicked and cavorted on the enormous green baize gambling table, while matadors strutted and postured, entertaining the dissolute guests with wild abandon.

Offering a near-prefect reading of the score, Antonio Pappano gave the cast eloquent support. The expressive dynamic range he drew from his players, enlivened even the most mundane accompanying figures, powerfully colouring the words. He coaxed a rich display of expressive hues from the members of the orchestra, especially the superb clarinet solo which accompanies Violetta’s letter writing in Act 2, where the instrument’s innate variety of timbre perfectly conveyed her inner conflict and instability. The Prelude was simply stunning: delicate, scintillating strings commented on sepia projections of times past, images which anticipate the picture that Violetta will present to Alfredo just before her death.

Act_III_Traviata_ROH.gifScene from Act III — Sarah Pring as Annina, Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry, Joseph Calleja as Alfredo Germont and Richard Wiegold as Doctor Grenvil

The catastrophic première of La Traviata at La Fenice in 1853 has entered the annals of infamous operatic disasters. During rehearsals, the librettist, Piave, had written to the Fenice management that the composer ‘insists with renewed firmness that to sing Traviata one must be young, have a graceful figure and sing with passion’. Fleming certainly ticks all the boxes. Her Violetta Valéry is neither angelic paragon of innocence or knowing schemer, but rather a high-spirited young woman of noble heart and pure soul whose self-contempt and fear of risking love win our sympathy and, ultimately, our tears and love.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):