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Although the Metropolitan Opera Live in Hd series is not the most consistent series, I still watch it for the amazing music, revisiting some of my favourites nowadays(the likes of Renee Fleming, Rene Pape, Juan Diego Florez and Dmitri Hvorostovsky) and discovering promising new talent. Like the series itself, the season of 2011-2012 has been uneven with some gems like Anna Bolena and Satyagraha to some moderate disappointments like Faust and Manon. But I did find it disheartening to see a season that opened so promisingly with Anna Bolena end with deep disappointment with La Traviata.
La Traviata is one of my all-time favourite Verdis, and also is one of my lifelong favourites since hearing the Sutherland, Bergonzi and Merrill recording. So the disappointment was not with the opera- like with operas like The First Emperor(from the first season) or The Enchanted Island(from this one)-, it was to do with the production. I had seen the production before from 2005 with Villazon, Netrebko and Hampson, and while not one of my favourite Traviatas(the Zeffirelli and Anna Moffo films) that production was much better, because there was more chemistry between the leads and the production felt much less contrived than here.
The costumes are mixed, the leads are fine with Hvorostovsky as Germont faring best, but the chorus costumes are just dreadful with women dressed in similar attire to the men and in black, hardly a colour for a party now is it? It was the sets though that I had a problem with, the 2005 production was the same but I found nothing distracting or unsubtle in that production like I did here. For my liking, while the modernism was bold, the minimalism of the sets came across across as too cold and too stark for me. The omnipresent use of the huge clock and Dr Death/Grim Reaper(Grenvil) was distracting, at first confusing me as to the point of their inclusion and then infuriating me with their pretension.
Musically, it is good but nothing outstanding. The orchestra play with style and lushness, allowing the pathos of Addio Del Passato and the joviality of Brindisi to come through. Fabio Luisi's conducting is competent and efficient but could have done with more poetry. The chorus are splendid. The performances are an uneven mix. Nobody is an absolute disgrace, but apart from one person, none can do much to enhance the production values or to make the production the tear-jerking experience it could've been. That one exception was the Germont of Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He is suitably stern and sympathetic, and his singing with shades of darkness is warm and beautiful. Di Provenza is commanding and moving, with admirably long phrasing.
The support cast are also not bad, but don't have enough of a bigger role to elevate to a higher level. The standouts were the bright, bubbly Flora of Patricia Risley, the foppish Baron Douphol of Jason Stearns and, although the constantly omnipresent appearance of his character was a form of annoyance here, the sensitive Dr Grenvil of Luigi Roni. Maria Zifchak and Scott Scully also acquitted themselves well. Matthew Polenzani is an uneven but often impressive Alfredo. His singing is unstrained and stylish especially in Lunge Da Lei, De'Miei Bollenti Spiriti, and he is handsome and dashing in appearance. His acting is not as impressive however, coming across as stiff, I never found myself moved or excited by him in the way I was hearing or seeing Domingo, Bonisoli, Carreras or Kraus. The big Act 2 duet also fell flat for me, it was lacking in sensuality and I just didn't feel the chemistry between him and Dessay.
But the biggest disappointment other than the sets was Natalie Dessay's Violetta. Now I actually like Dessay. In her heyday, she was absolutely thrilling, throwing high Fs and Gs(above the stave) with ease with style and colouratura just as impressive and always fun to watch. Vocally on the other hand here, she was off-form with desperate lunges up to notes and a lot of shrill high notes. Also in Sempre Libera, she never sounded quite sure of what speed she was supposed to be singing in. On a dramatic front, she is a little better, with her scene with Hvorostovsky and Addio Del Passato suitably poignant and she is fun if slightly overdoing it with the stage mannerisms at the start of Act 1, but I didn't think she ever did capture Violetta's vulnerability in the latter part of the opera.
Recently I had heard Hei Kyung Hong in the role, a performance full of acute colouratura and heart-breaking presence, and as much as I do like Dessay I did wish that Hong had been chosen for the broadcast instead. In conclusion, a disappointing production. I wanted to be moved, La Traviata always does that to me, but instead I found it cold and generally passionless with only the decent support cast, Hvorostovsky's Germont, the splendid high Definition and musical values really impressing. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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