The opera was a mixed bag - - I've never really seen it before, so I can't compare it to previous productions. Can you believe I’ve never seen *Traviata*? Funny story along these lines: I work with a soprano of color named Ethlouise Banks (what a fab name). I got a DVD from the public library this summer of Leyla Gencer, Fiorezna Cossotto, and Carlo Bergonzi doing *Aida* at the Arena di Verona, sometime in the early 60s. I thought it would be fun to see the three of them in a show, and fun to see something at the A di V, which is like the freakin’ Texas of opera venues, it’s so huge. I thought I’d fast forward through most of it, just watch the highlights. Well, I watched every minute of that damn thing, I was totally hooked! I told Ethlouise about this, and she said, “Check you out, discovering the standard repertoire.” So I thought it was time to check out *Traviata*.
It's a very stark modern production, which is generally very effective. A lot of the time it drains the romance out of the story and shows the life of a party girl/hooker to be no bed or roses, but it gets in trouble when you there is genuine sentiment, real love. The director doesn't make that transition in a way that works. Especially at the end, when the lover and his father come back to her when she's dying and beg her forgiveness - - this works because it's in the context of an overblown romantic and somewhat hokey story. It doesn't work in this production. My solution: make the lover and father seem like a fantasy of hers, a fever dream. Will write a note to Peter Gelb right now.
Marina Poplavskaya was much stronger in this than she was in *Don Carlo*. Gorgeous singing and a really moving performance. I'm still not 100% sure her voice is of international caliber, but she's very good. There was a recurring moment in the "Addio del passato" (her "OK, I'm really dyin' here" aria) when it sounded like there was a delay in her voice, like she was putting air through the instrument and it took a bit of time to come out. THAT is troubling. One quick odd thing before I forget about it: the set is a big swooping elipse, going up on the sides, sort of a skewed bowl. There were many times where it made the acoustics very strange, where it seemed like the singer was sitting right in the aisle next to me. That was odd.
The tenor, Matthew Polenzani, was tremendous. Such a lovely voice, and a very sweet performance. Violetta is really the only one who makes an impact dramatically in this production, but Polenzani created his own impact just through his gorgeous singing. The baritone, Andrzej Dobber, I didn't care for him at all. Very inelegant singing. There must be 500 guys who could sing that role better, and I think I went to college with one or two of them.
One final thing: there was a moment in the last scene that was one of the most chilling moments I’ve ever had in the theatre. It was in “Parigi, o cara”. The tenor was on the floor, looking straight ahead, singing with great tenderness and sweetness. Violetta was behind him the whole time, standing on a bench that goes around the back wall. She sang her verse, absolutely still and blank in her affect, and her singing was totally cold and emotionless. The message was, “I’m singing this because you (the tenor) expect me to sing this, but I don’t believe for a second that I’m going to live through the week. You can fantasize that we’re going to have a long and lovely life here in Paris, but I know better.” It was intense.