The Metropolitan Opera – La Traviata

La traviata – Opera in three acts to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Alexandre Dumas fils’s play La Dame aux camélias [sung in Italian with English Met Titles by Sonya Friedman]

Violetta Valéry – Ruth Ann Swenson
Alfredo Germont – Jonas Kaufman
Giorgio Germont – Dwayne Croft
Flora Bervoix – Leann Sandel-Pantaleo
Annina – Kethryn Day
Gastone – Eduardo Valdes
Baron Douphol – John Hancock
The Marquis d’Obigny – Thomas Hammons
Dr. Grenvil – LeRoy Lehr
Giuseppe – Marty Singleton
A Messenger – Joseph Pariso

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Marco Armiliato

Franco Zeffirelli – Production & Set Designer
Raimonda Gaetani – Costume Designer
Duane Schuler – Lighting Designer
Maria Benitez – Choreographer
Kristine McIntyre – Stage Director

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 12 March, 2008
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, New York City

Ruth Ann Swenson as Violetta Valéry and and Matthew Polenzani as Alfredo. Photograph: Ken Howard/Met OperaIf any opera should make an immediate emotional impact, it is “La traviata”. It has in the title-role of Violetta Valéry one of the great creations of nineteenth-century drama, and Verdi clothed her in music of astonishing lyrical intensity. It is a primadonna‘s opera. A successful presentation demands an absolutely superlative soprano. Violetta, “the one who strayed” is an exceedingly tough assignment, in every way a test of a soprano’s vocal and stylistic range. She needs brilliant coloratura technique in Act One, lyric beauty and spinto resonance Act Two, and extraordinarily intense pathos in the final scene.

The role is also a test of a singer’s dramatic ability. As the opera’s dominant, everything hinges on Violetta. The soprano must create a credible portrayal of a worldly courtesan, dying of consumption, who abandons the great love of her life because she truly does love him. Her psychologically complex character is the driving force of any performance, musically and theatrically overshadowing all the other characters. It is through their relationship to her that the others are defined and must come to life.

Ruth Ann Swenson as Violetta Valéry. Photograph: Ken Howard/Met OperaFew of these demands were met in this uninspired performance. In the Met’s current run Ruth Ann Swenson takes over the daunting role of Verdi’s favorite heroine, sung earlier this season by Renée Fleming, and by Angela Gheorghiu last Spring. Swenson has a lovely voice with a firm coloratura that carries easily in the huge Met house, but that was not enough for Verdi’s ill-fated heroine.

In terms of sheer vocal beauty, Swenson’s singing was hard to fault. But dramatically and emotionally, her characterization was incomplete, never really getting near the heart of the doomed courtesan. Swenson has an unaffected and charming stage presence, more aptly suited to less complex characters, such as Gilda in “Rigoletto”, Rosina “The Barber of Seville” or Adina in “L’Elisir d’Amore”, roles in which she has repeatedly triumphed at the Met. As Verdi’s “fallen woman” she seemed hopelessly miscast – too hearty to convey the heroine’s physical frailty, and too tepid dramatically to convey the requisite emotional fragility.

But the leading lady was not the only problem with this performance. To a large extent, the fault is with the production itself. Franco Zeffirelli’s flamboyant staging made its first appearance at the Met in 1998, and has been revived in every season but two since then. The production has been toned down a bit since its first appearance, but the sets remain so crowded and the décor so overdone, that it is difficult for the characters to make any dramatic impact.

Ruth Ann Swenson as Violetta Valéry and and Matthew Polenzani as Alfredo. Photograph: Ken Howard/Met OperaAct Two / Scene 2 shows Zeffirelli at his most grandiose. Flora’s house in Paris, with its huge chandelier, winding staircases, and richly decorated mirrors among statues and other embellishments, resembles nothing so much as the foyer of Paris’s Opera Garnier, invaded by half the population of Seville for a “Spanish soirée” featuring gigantic red lace mantillas hanging from the flies, multi-colored streamers and balloons, and – in the ballet sequence – tuxedo-clad bulls sparring with a chorus of matadors.

Swenson is paired with Jonas Kaufman as her conflicted lover. Kaufman’s voice is well-constructed, clear and resounding. With his thick dark hair and slender build, he made a youthfully attractive Alfredo. Dwayne Croft brought his robust, perfectly modulated, baritone to the role of the elder Germont. Indeed, all the singers (including those in small roles) have excellent voices. One has the feeling that they would have been more engaging interacting with a more dramatically convincing Violetta.

Marco Armiliato, a mainstay at the Met since 1998, drew sometimes sensitive but less than propulsive playing from the Orchestra. Unfortunately, Zeffirelli’s overstuffed sets combined with Swenson’s bland performance never allowed the music, the characters or the action to spring to life.

  • This performance was preceded by one on March 6
  • Further performances of La traviata are scheduled for March 15, 19 & 22
  • Metropolitan Opera

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