Petersen; Varano, Rutherford; Chorus of Oper Graz, Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester, Evans. Production: Konwitschny. Arthaus Musik 108 036 (Blu-ray) or 101 587 (DVD), 110 mins. (opera), 20 mins. (bonus), subtitled
Director Peter Konwitschny sometimes has made long operas (Die Meistersinger, Don Carlos) longer by interpolating dialogue. Here, he makes a short one shorter (107 minutes from first note to last) by staging it without intermission and making cuts both common and not — a verse of "Ah, fors'è lui," a verse of Alfredo's cabaletta, Germont's entire cabaletta, the choruses of Gypsies and matadors, a section of Act II's concertato finale, a verse of "Addio del passato," the offstage bacchanale, two sections of "Parigi, o cara."
More characteristically, Konwitschny trims La Traviata's visual trappings and, with set and costume designer Johannes Leiacker, achieves a unified look. The single set consists of a black chair backed by vermilion-red curtains that concentrate the action downstage, and most costumes are black and/or vermilion; Violetta's Act I party dress even replicates the curtains' folds. Those who wear other colors don't fit in, most pointedly Alfredo at the two parties.
In this production, which had its premiere at Oper Graz last year, Konwitschny's central point is that Violetta, a prostitute, is "the only real person [Mensch] in the opera." The party crowd enjoys the drama of her decline and finds great sport in pitching awkward Alfredo at an out-of-his-league beauty; defying their laughter and desperate for affection, she takes his side in what Konwitschny says "is not a love story." How could it be when Alfredo is not only a nerd in black-rimmed glasses who fumbles in a book for a toast text but a social misfit who has trouble meeting a gaze, panics at real emotion and even clutches Daddy's leg?
Papa Germont brings his daughter, who is a lot like her brother, to the interview with Violetta and brutally slaps her around; the girl and Violetta bond, which helps motivate Violetta to cave to Germont. Flora's party is a surreal nightmare in which guests don't play but flick cards and Alfredo takes revenge by pulling down curtains — an apocalyptic event that leaves the stage covered with cards, curtains and bodies, among which Germont seeks his son, and from which Violetta's "Alfredo, Alfredo" soars. At the end, not only is Violetta alone in death but only she is worthy of being onstage: the gulf of the pit separates her from Alfredo, Germont, Annina, Grenvil and the audience.
Marlis Petersen, in her first shot at the role, is as complete a video Violetta as Rosanna Carteri, Marie McLaughlin or the young Angela Gheorghiu, and as riveting as Teresa Stratas or Anna Netrebko. Petersen's coloratura fluency makes "Sempre libera" smooth sailing (no interpolated E-flat), and her voice, not large, proves strong and colorful enough for the later scenes. Her "Addio del passato" is exemplary, ending with a pure, white tone that seems the perfect realization of Verdi's requested fil di voce. Her portrayal of Violetta is detailed without ever seeming studied. Away from the parties and out of the bob wigs she wears to them, Petersen's Violetta is fully sympathetic: in headband, flannel shirt and cargo pants in the country, and in the black slip of her death scene, she looks terrific (if all too healthy) and seems very real.
Tenor Giuseppe Varano works hard at the piteous Alfredo he's asked to play, sagging flat a few times but singing most of the role well. James Rutherford, as Germont, wields his attractive Wagner baritone with restraint and doesn't overmatch Petersen. The Graz orchestra sounds fine, but the conducting of Tecwyn Evans, the choral singing and the supporting singers are undistinguished.
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