NEW YORK CITY: La Traviata
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In Review > North America

La Traviata

NEW YORK CITY
The Metropolitan Opera
12/11/14

Willy Decker’s production of La Traviata, first seen at the Met on New Year’s Eve 2010, retains its overall haunting effect and bleak message, even though many of the staging choices make less and less sense on repeated viewings. The stark enclosure of Wolfgang Gussmann’s circular set emphasizes the isolation and victimization of the fatally ill courtesan Violetta, turning cheerful only for the second act’s explosion of floral furniture and dressing gowns (doesn’t everyone wear bathrobes that match the couch?), which represents the blissful yet brief love affair between Violetta and Alfredo. A gigantic clock presses on the audience, and on the feisty Violetta and her imminent death, while Dr. Grenvil, here not so much a representation of healing as of Death itself, haunts the space. There is no curtain, and a dour, gray-haired James Courtney is seated on stage even before the audience enters the house. 

On December 11, conductor Marco Armiliato was also already in the pit when delays and announcements began. At first there seemed to be technical problems, but after fifteen minutes the stage manager made a second announcement that tenor Francesco Demuro would be singing the role of Alfredo, in place of an indisposed Steven Costello. 

Demuro’s Met debut was only weeks before, as a replacement in the role of Rodolfo in La Bohème. He was to have joined the Traviata production on December 30, so presumably he had had some rehearsal preparation. The young Sardinian tenor seemed entirely at home with the complicated and busy staging, and used his handsome voice, dark in timbre and with a compact, expressive vibrato, to great effect. Although Alfredo’s second act aria “De’ miei bollenti spiriti” serves in this production as background to a game of hide-and-seek and forces Alfredo to sing about Violetta as though she were not participating, Demuro sang impressively, even transcending the indignity of having to deliver the cabaletta in boxer shorts.

Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka made a sensational Violetta, projecting a youthful, contemporary edge that worked well in the production, where a defiant yet vulnerable young woman is at the mercy of a feverishly demanding society. Maya Lahyani’s Flora, along with the women and men of the Met chorus, was in male attire, and one of the production’s iconic images is of Violetta reveling in a red cocktail dress and heels while men grasp at her hungrily. Rebeka’s singing was impeccable, and her dark-hued soprano meshed nicely with Demuro’s similar sound. In addition, Rebeka registers an instrumental accuracy that etched the filigree of “Sempre libera” beautifully (although not fleetly sung) as well as the defiant, passionate outbursts of the Act II confrontation with Germont. The voice boasts plenty of attractive steel as well, yet Rebeka can soften and color it sensitively, and her singing of the last act was beautifully detailed and expressive.  

As Germont, Quinn Kelsey displayed a huge, resonant voice with open, ringing high notes and a consistently attractive legato. His characterization of the stuffy father who forces his son’s lover to abandon their idyllic fantasy was all business, making Germont a clear, focused man utterly baffled by displays of emotion. Too stiff and formal to return Violetta’s affectionate and daughterly embrace, Kelsey’s Germont was nevertheless a believably loving parent. 

After an unfocussed start, most likely due to the unexpected delay, Armiliato led the responsive Met orchestra and chorus in a warmly expressive performance. spacer 

JUDITH MALAFRONTE

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