Netrebko and Luigi Roni in La Traviata
The Salzburg Festival: La Traviata Sets New Gold
Special from Salzberg: Verdi’s La Traviata is performed so often
that it’s a challenge to present something new. Producer Willy Decker and
director Wolfgang Gussmann achieved this in a dramatically coherent and visually
compelling way. The plot is well known. The courtesan, Violetta, falls in love
with Alfredo. Unbeknown to Alfredo, his father, Giorgio, compels Violetta to
break up the affair because of the shame of this illicit liaison on his family.
The enraged Alfredo is led to believe that Violetta jilted him. The couple reconciles
but Violetta dies at their reunion.
In the prologue, Violetta staggers across the huge stage left stark except for
a large clock in which the minutes and hours moved relentlessly forward. This
implied that Violetta’s short life would soon end. Hovering over the clock
was her physician, Dr. Grenvil who usually only makes a brief appearance at the
opera’s end. Here Grenvil was ominously present throughout as Violetta’s
messenger of death. Gussman and Susana Mendoza dressed the female chorus in contemporary
male attire so that only Violetta, in a stunning red dress, stood out. With the
arrival of the guests, the revelry began. Violetta was hoisted onto a couch,
drinking and flaunting her body. Grenvil handed her the flower which she gave
to her ardent admirer, Alfredo, at their initial meeting, telling him to return
when the flower withered.
In Act 2, the red dress was hung prominently on the stark wall. She had exchanged
this and Alfredo his formal suit for floral garments. The same patterned fabric
draped the couches as well as the clock suggesting that for the present, time
was standing still. This was only short-lived. After Giorgio forces her to give
up Alfredo, Violetta, dramatically pulls the drapery from the couches and the
clock, dons the red dress and reluctantly returns to her previous reckless life.
Spread across the stage was a huge pictorial floral arrangement, which gradually
faded in keeping with the change in atmosphere.
The ever-present clock
was again prominent in the next scene where it served as
the gambling table. This brilliantly set the stage for Violetta’s
denouncement by the jealous Alfredo. Flinging his gambling
winnings at Violetta, he even dramatically shoved part of
them up her red dress. The menacing chorus approached Alfredo
as the curtain fell. Instead of the usual intermission before Act 3, the prologue
began immediately with Grenvil motioning the chorus to retreat, leaving the
stage empty except for himself and the dying Violetta. At
their final reunion, Violetta presents Alfredo with her portrait.
This took the form of the same flower given to her by Grenvil,
but this time Alfredo would not return. All these subtle
nuances worked brilliantly and represented new insights into
this popular Verdi favorite.
What of the singing?
With a face of a movie star, the body of a supermodel and the voice of an angel,
Violetta sung by the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, absolutely stole the show.
At center stage throughout the performance, she was also a consummate actress
as seen in her vivid portrayal as courtesan, passionate lover, broken woman
and tragic dying figure. She carried off the aria concluding Act 1, treacherous
even for the most accomplished soprano, with aplomb. With his lyric tenor,
Rolando Villazon, as Alfredo, was equally effective as ardent and then enraged
lover and remorseful supplicant. The passion between them could be felt. American
baritone Thomas Hampson took the challenging role of Alfredo’s father. His beautiful
sonorous baritone easily filled the huge house. His stage demeanor was stiff
and uncomfortable in his initial meeting with Violetta. This was expected considering
his difficult task in breaking up the lover’s liaison. His confrontation
with Alfredo was violent. Bass Luigi Roni as the ever-present Grenvil, sang
his small role confidently. Carlo Rizzi lead the Vienna Philharmonic in this
emotionally charged performance. This inspiring production represents a landmark
achievement for the 2005 Festival.#