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VERDI: La Traviata

DVD Button Gimadieva, Hipp, Molendowska; Fabiano, Christoyannis, Broadbent; London Philharmonic Orchestra, C. Elder. Production: Cairns. Opus Arte OA 1171 D, 132 mins. (opera), 18 mins. (bonus), subtitled

Recordings Glyndebourne Traviata hdl 216
All consumed: Gimadieva and Fabiano at Glyndebourne
© Richard Hubert Smith
Recordings Glyndebourne Traviata Lg 216
Critics Choice Button 1015 

GLYNDEBOURNE'S TRAVIATA  from 2014 is now on DVD, and it’s worth watching, not only for its fine cast but for its director, Tom Cairns. Cairns works in film, television, theater and opera; he has written the libretto for Thomas Adès’s upcoming Exterminating Angel and will direct its premiere at Salzburg in 2016, a production due to reach the Met the following season.

Cairns’s take on Traviata, intimately allied with Hildegard Bechtler’s haunting set and costume designs, feels like a dream. Much of the action is placed downstage, and the various settings are glimpsed primarily within a narrowed field of vision upstage. Characters are clothed in disparate fashions that evoke the 1910s (most of Violetta’s gowns), the Mad Men era and the present day. The oneiric atmosphere is poignantly encapsulated during Violetta’s final moments, when all the characters at her bedside quickly disappear from the stage, leaving her abandoned in a pool of light. She seems horribly alone, perhaps having only imagined the return of Alfredo and Giorgio Germont in a kind of final delerium. (Franco Zeffirelli also suggested this in his 1982 film version, with Teresa Stratas.) You might disagree with a few of Cairns’s choices—such as depriving his Violetta of her parlando reading of Giorgio’s letter by having Giorgio himself read it as a miked voiceover—but overall this is a thoughtfully conceived production that allows us to see this familiar work anew.

Cairns’s cast lives up to the promise of his insightful direction. His young Violetta, Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva (here making her Glyndebourne debut) is a lyric soprano with a dramatic stage presence and a voice filled with strong, individualistic colors. In Act I, she dispatches her fioriturawith ease, and she continues with real strength as the drama deepens, making fine use of a firm chest register. Her very ardent Alfredo is Michael Fabiano, also making his Glyndebourne debut. For once, Alfredo looks about as young as he’s meant to be. A kinetic singing actor who gives his all, Fabiano is touchingly impetuous and, ultimately, guilt-ridden, and he emphasizes the emotional trajectory of his character with carefully considered dynamics. His “Parigi, o cara” duet with Gimadieva is a thing of great sweetness and sad beauty. 

As the elder Germont, Greek baritone Tassis Christoyannis, clothed in a modern suit, shows the exterior coldness of a tough businessman whose heart is eventually melted by his meeting with Violetta. His voice is not particularly distinctive or mellifluous, but his performance has emotional truth. 

This is very much an actors’ opera, and video director François Roussillon clearly worked well in tandem with Cairns to capture the subtleties of this performance. The singers respond well to conductor Mark Elder and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, though Elder indulges in choices that border on the perverse. His sped-up tempo for “Addio del passato” is one such mistake—he makes it sound like a waltz by Johann Strauss. (In an interview, Elder stressed that he had used as preparation a version of the score that had Verdi’s own markings, so perhaps he is actually being faithful to the composer’s intention.)

Extras include the usual sound-bite clips from interviews with the cast and creative team, and the brochure includes a valuable interview with Cairns by Glyndebourne’s dramaturge, Cori Ellison.  —Eric Myers 

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