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La Traviata

VIENNA
Wiener Festwochen
5/30/12

It is painful to witness how low artistic levels have dropped in the Wiener Festwochen's ongoing assault on Verdi, preparing for his 2013 bicentennial. Luc Bondy's 2011 Rigoletto made one doubt that things could get much worse. This year's La Traviata, staged by Deborah Warner, is no directorial insult, but it was a musical atrocity (seen May 30).

A great deal of Warner's staging — with attractive sets by Jeremy Herbert, ugly contemporary costumes by Rudy Sabounghi and ridiculous choreography by Kim Brandstrup — seemed very familiar. Opening and closing the opera in a barren hospital ward: wasn't that New York City Opera in the 1990s? That inexplicable, omnipresent forest upstage: wasn't that Klaus Guth's Salzburg Don Giovanni? The chorus entering in Act I with sofas and people standing on furniture a lot: wasn't that Willy Decker's Salzburg Traviata production?

At least there was nothing offensive — except, perhaps, for the drag-queen gypsy ballet at Flora's place and Alfredo's attacking Violetta on a gambling table and shoving money up her dress. Blocking was basic but barren, cold and distant: Alfredo addressed his "Parigi, o cara" to the audience, ignoring his bedridden amore.

The nicest set (Act II, scene 1) seemed modeled after Philip Johnson's Glass House — barren trees, piles of rust-colored leaves, a light snowfall, a roaring fire from a freestanding fireplace, and piles of pillows on the floor, but no walls. Characters (the servants, Germont père, etc.) simply walked in and out of the playing area.

Irina Lungu, a Russian Violetta, looked the part — tiny, pretty and a bit wan — but while she sang (most of) the notes, they were all the same. Consistently droopy-eyed, she may have been the least involved Violetta in my experience. To her credit, she managed a decent high E-flat to cap "Sempre libera" without skipping the lines leading up to it.

Saimir Pirgu was thrust upon the Viennese public at a tender age; Ioan Holender, the former intendant of Wiener Staatsoper, cast the tenor in roles for which he was far from ready. At thirty, Pirgu is thicker in voice and body, seems to be able to sing only forte or in head voice, and his pitch is often a hair sharp or flat.

The Germont, Gabriele Viviani, was not even of a provincial level, screaming his way though the role. Omer Meir Wellber, who made a favorable impression with the 2011 Rigoletto, seemed to be gearing up for next year's scheduled Il Trovatore, blasting his way through the entire uncut score. spacer

LARRY L. LASH

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