For this production of Verdi’s La traviata, insightfully directed in the theatre by Tom Cairns, Glyndebourne chose three relatively unknown singers for the main roles – a Russian soprano, an American tenor, and a Greek baritone – and so impressive were they, and so convincing were many other features of the staging, that this quickly became the hot ticket of the 2014 season.
I was lucky enough to see this production last summer and so successful was the ‘live’ experience that I wondered whether the DVD could begin to compare; in the event, however, the virtual experience is almost as immediate.
From the outset, Violetta’s unhappiness is self-evident, as she looks-in upon her social circle, depicted here – amid a vaguely 1920s’ setting – without recourse to any needlessly extravagant direction. Lavishly costumed though much of it is – gorgeous colours abound – one senses a shallow milieu that has its counterparts in every generation. Venera Gimadieva’s highly intelligent portrayal of Violetta suggests that happiness might yet be possible. Sumptuous of voice at every turn of this supremely challenging role, she looks wonderful – what eyes! – … not least when focusing on Alfredo during their Act One ‘Brindisi’! And Michael Fabiano is an ideal partner – thoroughly convincing as the handsome lover who, having long-admired her from afar, suddenly enters her life and seems to promise salvation. But at the close of this Act, despite the exhilaration of ’Sempre libera’, Violetta’s apprehension is palpable.
The odds are indeed stacked against Violetta and Alfredo – not least in the shape of Germont père, finely acted and confidently sung by Tassis Christoyannis. Violetta’s ‘Dite alla giovine’ – as she reluctantly yields to the patriarch’s pleas to give up Alfredo – offers further evidence of Gimadieva’s formidable vocal and dramatic talents, and an interesting aspect of Christoyannis’s depiction of Alfredo’s father is that when he takes his leave, one senses that he too finds Violetta's beauty and personality more disarming than he might ever have anticipated. In consequence his remorse in Act Three is all the more poignant, and his public reprimand of Alfredo is particularly unsettling.
From the off it is clear that those in the pit are inspired – in the Prelude Mark Elder draws a diaphanous response from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and as Act succeeds Act the gamut of moods to be found in this miraculous score, from ebullience to deep sadness, is sensitively and dynamically realised and amply displays the opera's rich variety.
All the many excellences of this production have been very successfully captured on this Opus Arte DVD, not only because the audio is very good – singers and orchestra immediate and finely balanced – but also because it has been filmed with integrity by François Roussillon, whether it be the opera’s more intimate moments (with many apposite close-ups) or the more-populated scenes.
The comprimario roles are very convincingly taken, not least by Hanna Hipp, Eddie Wade and Graeme Broadbent. All in all this is a terrific piece of ensemble work. If you saw this production at Glyndebourne, then this release will be a reminder of an excellent occasion; and if not then it will surely make you wish you had been there. As good as the quality of the DVD is, the Blu-ray version (OA BD7169 D), as one would expect, offers astonishingly fine sound and vision. Three extras are included on both: “La traviata – Once heard, never forgotten”, introduced by Elder, includes interview material with the main protagonists; “An opera for all times” presents rehearsal clips, further interviews, and some technical background; and there’s a photo gallery of members of the cast.