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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La traviata

The little red dress returns. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A boy, a girl and a timepiece. Marina Poplavskaya (right) in La Traviata.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
This stripped-down Willy Decker staging of La Traviata (introduced at the very end of 2010)
eliminates the elegance of 19th century Paris for a bare, clinical room, a single curved bench and a giant clock that ticks down the remaining minutes in the life of Violetta, the courtesan who is at the heart of Verdi's most intimate tragedy.

For New York opera-goers, this Traviata remains  the most divisive of general manager Peter Gelb's numerous attempts to update the company's repertory with fresh ideas from outside directors. It replaced a Franco Zeffirelli production that was filled with glitz, pageantry and a ballet sequence that initially featured Met ballerinas dressed as Holstein cows.

Mr. Decker's production uses constant repeated imagery (the heroine's red "working girl" dress, an omnipresent clock and the specter of Death (in the form of Doctor Grenville)) adding to the intensity of Verdi's most intimate tragedy. The decision to play the opera's four acts as two with very little scenery change quickens the pace and accelerates Violetta's death.

This year, the Met offers two casts. Marina Rebeka sings five performances opposite tenor Stephen Costello. For the remaining shows, Marina Poplavskaya (who sang Violetta when this production opened) takes over the lead role, and Francesco Demuro makes his company debut as Alfredo. Marco Armiliato conducts.

La traviata opens Dec. 11.

Recording Recommendations
Verdi's most heart-rending opera has been lucky on disc. Here's three good recordings.

Bavarian State Opera Orchestra cond. Carlos Kleiber (DG, 1977)
Violetta: Ileana Cotrubas
Alfredo: Plácido Domingo
Germont: Sherrill Milnes
Carlos Kleiber was an extraordinary conducting talent who made very few recordings. This was one of his best, a studio-made, note-complete Traviata with a sensitive heroine in Ileana Cotrubas. The redoubtable team of Sherrill Milnes and Placído Domingo recorded a lot of operas together in the 1970s, but they manage to convince the listener as father and son.

Coro e Orchestra de La Scala cond. Riccardo Muti (Sony, 1992)
Violetta: Tiziana Fabbricini
Alfredo: Roberto Alagna
Germont: Paolo Coni
Expert Verdi conducting and a compelling performance by Roberto Alagna as Alfredo. Tiziana Fabbricini is a very good, involving Violetta who is helped by the live, theatrical recording made in Italy's most famous opera house. Reissued last year.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Carlo Rizzi (DG, 2005)
Violetta: Anna Netrebko
Alfredo: Rolando Villazón
Germont: Thomas Hampson
I will also put a word in for this entertaining live recording from the Salzburg Festival. Anna Netrebko, captured in great form as Verdi's bird in a gilded cage. Rolando Villazon before he lost his voice. And like the Muti set, this has the immediacy of a live recording.

Tickets for La traviata are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.