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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some thoughts on La Traviata

I was in London today to see La Traviata at the Royal Opera House. This was slightly complicated by a tube strike! I was always intending walking there but had envisaged the tube home, as it was I walked part way and then hopped in a cab.

La Traviata is an opera by Giuseppe Verdi.

Act 1
Violetta is a courtesan who is recovering from an illness and throws her party, there she meets a young nobleman (Alfredo) who has been admiring her from a far. Her current lover Baron Douphol refuses to sing a Brindisi (drinking song) and Alfredo agrees to sing it.

The guests go into another room leaving Violetta alone. Violetta looks at her pale face in the mirror. Alfredo enters and expresses his concern for her fragile health, later declaring his love for her.

At first she rejects him because his love means nothing to her, but there is something about Alfredo that touches her heart. He is about to leave when she gives him a flower, telling him to return it when it has wilted. She promises to meet him the next day. 

After the guests leave, Violetta wonders if Alfredo could actually be the one in her life. But she concludes that she needs freedom to live her life. From off stage, Alfredo's voice is heard singing about love as he walks down the street.

The set looked lovely and the setting was traditional. Diana Damrau as Violetta has a lot to do and she was excellent a really lovely voice. None of the other characters have much of a chance to really shine. I did like the way Alfredo sang off stage  mimicing walking down the street.

Act 1 also contains the famous Brindisi one of those Operatic arias nor opera buffs knows when they hear it.

Act 2 
This is broken into two scenes. The first is set three months later in Violetta's country house outside Paris.

Alfredo discovers from Violetta's maid Annina that Violetta  there to sell the horses, carriages and everything owned by Violetta to support their country lifestyle. Alfredo is shocked to learn this and leaves for Paris immediately to settle matters himself. 

Violetta returns to find an invitation to a party from her friend Flora. Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, is announced and demands that she break off her relationship with his son because Violetta's relationship with Alfredo has threatened his daughter's engagement because of Violetta's reputation. Giorgio becomes impressed by Violetta's nobility. She responds that she cannot end the relationship because she loves him so much, but Giorgio pleads with her for the sake of his family. With growing remorse, she finally agrees and says goodbye to Giorgio. In a gesture of gratitude for her kindness and sacrifice, Giorgio kisses her forehead before leaving her weeping alone. 

Violetta gives a note to Annina to send to Flora accepting the party invitation and, as she is writing a farewell letter to Alfredo, he enters. She can barely control her sadness and tears; she tells him repeatedly of her unconditional love . Before rushing out and setting off for Paris, she hands the farewell letter to her servant to give to Alfredo.

The servant brings the letter to Alfredo and, as soon as he has read it, Giorgio returns and attempts to comfort his son, reminding him of his family in Provence. Alfredo suspects that the Baron is behind his separation with Violetta, and the party invitation, which he finds on the desk, strengthens his suspicions. He determines to confront Violetta at the party. Giorgio tries to stop Alfredo, but he rushes out.

The highlight of this scene is between Violetta and Giorgio Germont (Dmitri Hvorostovsky) this was beautifully sung you could feel the emotion between the two. The contrast in voices between Damrau (Soprano) and Hvorostovsky (Baritone) worked well. This totally over shadowed poor Alfredo (Francesco Demuro).

Scene 2 is set at Flora's house in Paris

At the party, the Marquis tells Flora that Violetta and Alfredo have separated, much to the amazement of everyone who had previously seen the happy couple. She calls for the entertainers to perform for the guests. Gastone and his friends join the matadors and sing.

Violetta arrives with Baron Douphol. They see Alfredo at the gambling table. When he sees them, Alfredo loudly proclaims that he will take Violetta home with him. Feeling annoyed, the Baron goes to the gambling table and joins him in a game. As they bet, Alfredo wins some large sums until Flora announces that supper is ready. Alfredo leaves with handfuls of money.

As everyone is leaving the room, Violetta has asked Alfredo to see her. Fearing that the Baron's anger will lead him to challenge Alfredo to a duel, she gently asks Alfredo to leave. Alfredo misunderstands her apprehension and demands that she admit that she loves the Baron. In grief, she makes that admission and, furiously, Alfredo calls the guests to witness what he has to say. He humiliates and denounces Violetta in front of the guests and then throws his winnings at her feet in payment for her services. She faints onto the floor. The guests reprimand Alfredo.

In search of his son, Giorgio enters the hall and, knowing the real significance of the scene, denounces his son's behaviour .

Flora and the ladies attempt to persuade Violetta to leave the dining room, but Violetta turns to Alfredo and begs her to understand his distress vowing her undying love for him: the baron swears to avenge the insult to Violetta.

The set is beautfiul! The scene is much more of an ensemble piece you get Gypsies and Matadors and it looks rather lovely. Alfredo gets to sing a bit more! He does come across as a bit of wet blanket, it of course it doesn't help that we know how noble Violetta is and that Damrau is so good!

I did like the way the scene finished with everyone seemingly frozen in place.

Act 3 Set in Violetta's Bedroom
Dr. Grenvil tells Annina that Violetta will not live long since her tuberculosis has worsened. Alone in her room, Violetta reads a letter from Alfredo's father telling her that the Baron was only wounded in his duel with Alfredo; that he has informed Alfredo of the sacrifice she has made for him and his sister; and that he is sending his son to see her as quickly as possible to ask for her forgiveness. But Violetta senses it is too late.

Annina rushes in the room to tell Violetta of Alfredo's arrival. The lovers are reunited and Alfredo suggests that they leave Paris.

But it is too late: she knows her time is . Alfredo's father enters with the doctor, regretting what he has done. After singing a duet with Alfredo, Violetta suddenly revives, exclaiming that the pain and discomfort have left her. A moment later, she dies in Alfredo's arms.

The overture to Act 3 is rather lovely and I can't help but wonder what Symphonies Verdi might have composed if he hadn't concentrated on Opera. Obviously the act is about Violetta's death and gives Damrau another chance to wow us and wow she did. She certainly managed to ring the emotions. The ending is very poignant and sad. A pretty memorable three hours.

Damrau was fabulous I've learnt that she was Female Singer of the Year 2014 at the International Opera Awards and I know why now. All credit to Dmitri Hvorostovsky who wasn't in the least overshadowed he and Damrau were magnificent together. Francesco Demuro doesn't have as much to do and his role lacked the emotional punch of the others. Still he gave a good Brindisi and he did well in the third act I thought.

The production was traditional, no mucking about setting it in 1960's and full of drugs. The sets were lovely. Oh and the Orchestra were good. What more do you need when sung this well?

We will ignore the numpty a few rows in front of me whose mobile phone went off and seemed to make little effort to turn it off (and I think there was another later!!).

1 comment:

Tricia Ryder said...

Can't really add to that except - one of the best I've seen!!