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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Traviata

The girl in the red dress goes back on the clock.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Champagne supernova: Sonya Yoncheva in La Traviata at the Met.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Sonya Yoncheva returns to sing Violetta in the Met's controversial, clock-watching production of Verdi's tragic masterpiece.

What is La Traviata?
Verdi's La Traviata is at once one of his most moving and most personal operas. Controversial in its day, this setting of Alexandre Dumas fils' novel La dame aux Camellias remains one of the core works of the Italian repertory. It is an unflinching examination of the life of one Violetta Valéry, a heroine who is the "fallen woman" of the title but is also one of the composer's noblest creations.

What's La Traviata about?
This is classic story of a rich suitor who falls hard for a gorgeous, if sickly courtesan in belle epoque France. She dies of consumption in the harrowing final scene.

What's the music like?
In the 1850s, Verdi's career entered the operatic stratosphere with Rigoletto and Il Trovatore, two of the most popular operas of all time. La Traviata finds the composr from Bussetto at the height of his considerable powers as he tells a small, intimate story while packing the score with memorable melodies and unforgettable moments.

Who's in it?
There are two casts, with Sonya Yoncheva and Carmen Giannattasio taking on the role of Violetta Valéry. Her lover Alfredo will be played by tenors Michael Fabiano and Attalla Ayan. The key role of his father Giorgio Germont will be sung by Thomas Hampson, George Petean and at the very end of the run, Plácido Domingo, in his second Verdi baritone role this season. Nicola Luisotti conducts.

How's the production?
Depending on who you ask, this is the most loved or most loathed of the "new Met" aesthetic of the 21st century. Willy Decker's production strips the action to an almost bare stage, with a bright red dress symbolizing both Violetta's profession and the consumption that threatens her very existence. Impending death is also implied by a giant clock, whose hands move closer and closer to midnight as the opera progresses. In the finale, the clock becomes the courtesan's deathbed.

Why should I see it?
From Superconductor in January of 2015: " From her entry in the first act, pursued across the white chamber by a gaggle of tuxedoed suitors and well-wishes, Ms. Yoncheva was completely in the moment, stopping only to deliver a vibrant brindisi and an occasionally thrilling, well-placed Sempre libera." That's a good review, folks.

When does it open?
La Traviata returns Feb. 24, 2017.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I get?
Bavarian State Opera Orchestra cond. Carlos Kleiber (DG, 1977)
Carlos Kleiber was an extraordinary conducting talent who made just four major opera 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.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Carlo Rizzi (DG, 2005)
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 in early peak form. And the immediacy of a live recording.

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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.