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36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Yet another La Traviata, but worth it for Renée FlemingApril 29 2011
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Renée Fleming has matured into one of the finest sopranos around at the moment, a true star with a sparkling personality and a velvet-toned voice that is capable of wringing the finest emotions out of works by Strauss and Tchaikovsky that from a lesser singer could sound rather cold and clinical. I wouldn't have thought her voice would be so well suited to Violetta Valéry in La Traviata, and it does take some getting used to, but I think she at least brings a distinct quality to the role with an emotional heart that isn't always necessarily there when a leading diva uses it primarily as a display for her vocal talents. It's served well also by Antonio Pappano's conducting of the Royal Opera House Orchestra in a traditional, but effective production by Richard Eyre.
There's only one way to really measure the true performance of La Traviata however, and that is by the qualities of the soprano. Renée Fleming does seem a little faltering in the first act, the warm enveloping richness of her tone perhaps not quite bringing out the clarity of the Italian diction. The production also seems a little disjointed in Act 1, setting up the great arias well (and is there any opera that has quite so many memorable, technically and dramatically impressive arias?), but not really sure what to do with the performers in between. Fleming's 'È strano ...ah forsè'lui' however is excellent, the soprano most definitely singing it her own way, putting a different complexion and personal interpretation on the opera.
If Act I doesn't flow as well as one might hope, Act II however is superb in every respect - singing, dramatic representation, the precision and timing of the orchestration all played to perfection in both scenes. Fleming's duet with Hampson's Germont Sr., 'Ah! Dite alla giovine', is technically stunning, but at the same time full of heartfelt emotion. I've rarely seen it done so well and it's capable of leaving you dead in your tracks. Much as I sometimes find Act III a little gruelling in this opera, here it also comes across with great emotional force, again primarily down to Fleming's superb acting talent, but also to how well she blends with Joseph Calleja. Calleja is a tenor very much in the classic mould of a Pavarotti or Domingo, and as such is perfectly suited to a role such as Alfredo. There is some maturing to be done in his voice, and he certainly doesn't have the personality or range of the greats, but his voice has a beautiful tone and blends well with Fleming here.
It's hard then to find fault with the production or the performances, but there are so many versions of La Traviata out there that a new version really needs something special to entice you into reconsidering it anew (such as in the Willy Decker fascinating production with Anna Netrebko - La Traviata). This is a straightforward, traditional, period staging - it doesn't add anything new, it doesn't make the viewer reconsider the whole tone of the piece or allow them to plunge into its emotional heart - but it has Renée Fleming, and it's worthwhile for that alone. Other than for Fleming however, one can't help but feel that this would indeed be just another La Traviata.
The quality of the Blu-ray release is good, but not great. The lighting is rather soft, so it doesn't have the clarity you might expect, but it does seem to capture a sense of the ambience of Covent Garden. The audio likewise doesn't really have a full depth of tone. The violins dominate, but feel slightly detached from the rest of the orchestration in the 5.1 mix, only occasionally achieving the thunderous tone that is often demanded. The PCM stereo mix however is excellent and may be the better option. The extras on the disc consists of a worthwhile 21-minute interview of Fleming by Pappano, where the soprano acknowledges the personal challenges the role represents, and describes her technical approach.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Personal preferences will probably be a major factor when responding to this discNov. 4 2012
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This recording of La Traviata, made at the Royal Opera on two dates in 2009, is essentially a traditional production and features a top calibre cast under the expert baton of Antonio Pappano. The production by Richard Eyre, slightly re-vamped, is essentially the same as that recorded for Gheorghui's first recording with Solti conducting in 1994 and regularly revived ever since.
The current recording provides a particularly strong characterisation of Giorgio Germont given by Thomas Hampson. He has the maturity for the part while still retaining the strength of voice which gives this difficult role the required authority, although morally doubtful, that can often descend to mere bullying. This is a notable portrayal and one good reason for considering this recording.
The next good reason is the musically satisfying portrayal of Alfredo by Joseph Calleja. He voice has the tonal characteristics that blend well with those of Fleming and together they make a convincing vocal partnership.
Renee Fleming reprises the role she made just a few years earlier with Villazon and she demonstrates a rather more emotionally developed portrayal of the role. Although of more mature years than that of the role she has nevertheless retained an astonishing level of youthfulness and beauty in her personal appearance that reduces the obvious age gap between herself and Alfredo to a remarkable degree. Her voice has a creaminess that is very attractive and she is able to act the role well and it is in that respect that, in my opinion, she demonstrates the development over her earlier portrayal with Villazon.
The orchestra responding to the inspiration and guidance of Pappano has made enormous improvements over the years and now is second to none. On this recording there is a thrilling intensity and forward momentum to the performance that is typical of Pappano's expert operatic grip.
The recording is very good and is typical of the high standards that one might have come to expect of Opus Arte. The camera work is involving and provides sharp imaging. The sound is presented in DTS 5.1 and stereo options of good range and definition.
There is a 21 minute bonus feature in the form of an interview between Pappano and Fleming as well as the usual cast gallery.
In summary this is a well-performed and recorded traditional production of La Traviata. Interpretively there are no special insights offered, but just a good old fashioned honest delivery of a popular opera. Technically this is a good and reliable product which apparently aims to satisfy a traditional middle-of-the-road audience. There is nothing wrong with any of this and I personally find this altogether more satisfying than watching a performance or production that is essentially more self-aware than Verdi probably intended.
Finally, how does this compare? Beyond the resume given above I can only answer for myself of course. For me personally the main issue revolves around Violetta and here I find that Renee Fleming acts this really rather well, as well as anyone. But ... and here we have it ... for me she is still acting and it is with Angela Gheorghiu that one finds something quite different. With Gheorghiu you actually experience someone who actually becomes Violetta. Her first recording with Solti clearly has youth on its side but the older Gheorghiu on the later recording with Maazel at La Scala has everything else including Blu-ray and budget price.
On a purely objective basis, this ROH offering can be described as a very good production and well recorded. Those who warm more to Fleming will probably prefer her in the role in either of the two productions currently available. Conversely those who warm to Gheorghui will probably prefer her as in either of her two discs. In the end there are personal choices to be made based more on subjective preferences rather than objective measurements. Any of these four discs (two by both Fleming and Gheorghiu) will probably give equal satisfaction to different purchasers and this review can only be considered as an overall guide to those choices.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Be warned!Feb. 22 2012
Thomas E. Ascher
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I'd be wary of showing this Traviata to anyone, or recommending it without knowing more about the emotional stability of who I was showing it to. For sheer pleasure and an overall superbly sung, staged and acted Traviata, I prefer the L.A. version with Fleming and Villazon. For an intense, involving, emotionally draining version, I recommend this Royal Opera production.
To get the most out of this, I'd recommend turning off the sub-titles, ignoring the scenery and other members of the cast and simply focusing on Renee. Her singing, acting and dedication to the role has evolved to a performance that is quite remarkable; her life and art have merged with Violetta Valery. Perhaps I'm over reacting, indulging in a bit of hyperbole. Maybe. Based on the reactions of the audience viewing this live performance, on this particular night, I may be understating.
Details. I'm not a great fan of Joseph Calleja as Alfredo. He has a great voice, but his acting is not so great. He shows emotion by repeatedly gritting his teeth, as though he is chewing gum. I am in agreement with other reviewers who like Thomas Hampson in the role of Alfredo's father. But it is what is happening with Renee on this particular night that counts!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Fleming is Violetta of this generation on DVD.Oct. 22 2012
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Nothing short of a vocal miracle, Renee Fleming at 50 plus still sings (and acts) the role of Dumas doomed courtesan to such degree of artistic finesse and vocal alure! Fleming looks the part, acts the part, and most of all, sings the part. Violetta is a difficult soprano role by all standards. Fleming does not vie for vocal flippancies such as interpolating high notes not on the original score. Rather, she turns in an artistically highly coherent and convincing performance by sticking to the basics. Of course, as other reviewers noted, she is ably aided by conductor Pappano. The staging is fabulous by modern standards. No horror of bizarre avante garde productions, but just fine period scenary and decent period costumes and makeup. Hampson's Germont is pompous but appropriate. He acquits himself much better here than in the Willy Decker 2005 Salzburg production. I originally got this DVD for Joseph Calleja's Alfredo, having already had Fleming's LA performance (with Villazon) a couple of years ago. Calleja does not disappoint vocally. His is probably the best tenor voice of the 21st century. Indeed, he can sing dozens and dozens of beefy to lyrical tenor roles with his wonderful instrument! What's left is of course style and characterisation. I find it a bit hard to believe that he is a teenager, for though at 31, he is way to burly for a teenager, and his demeanour has all that of a mature middle-aged man, but for his voice! What a voice. It's youthful, ardent and vibrant. He reminds me at once of Pavarotti in his prime - similarly golden-voiced, similarly burly beyond the years. There is no need for characterisation - the audience simply would not be bothered with such a gorgeous voice. Let's hope that Calleja will keep his body weight in tight check to save his stage presence for the good of all opera goers!
18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Which La Traviata to own?July 28 2011
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It is hard to be objective about La Traviata and the various performances on Blu ray, so I shall be subjective. For me there is no current version of La Traviata to touch The Willy Decker 2OO5 version, conducted quickly and passionately by Carlo Rizzi. The staging is minimalist and modern. The singers are Netrebko and Villazon, young, good actors and live the parts. The singing of these two have not been equalled since. Hampson is in his prime here as the father. When a production takes off like this one you know why you like opera.
So we have the Maazel version with a much older Gheorghiu, who unfortunately is not the same as the 1994 model on the Solti La Traviata.One reviewer compared her now to Magda Olivero, who sang Tosca at the Met when she was 65. So good was she, that the audience were in tears. I compare her to Callas. She only sang in Italy. Ramon Vargas, does not have that emotional voice that is required in an opera such as this. But he is good.I could not recommend this version.
That leaves the Los Angeles Version conducted by James Conlon, one of my favourite conductors. Fleming is younger and her creamy voice comes to the fore, with Rolando Villazon. Both compliment each other.Being older then the tenor does not come into it. Domingo carried on until his 6o's. No one mentioned his age.As a Man, I think it is sexist. After all Olivero was knocking the audiences socks off in her 6o's. The father is Renato Bruson. The Grammophone magazine states politely "he is past his prime"To put it mildly that is a understatement.But if people want him, why shouldnt he carry on. Being an opera singer is not for the faint hearted. I owned a copy of the DVD, but could not stand the traditional staging, it was so over the top. I gave it away. But the singing apart from Bruson is sublime. Take no notice of me.
Now to this version,which I like. Obviously, it is staged exactly as it was in the 1994 Solti version of La Traviata. Richard Eyre is the same director with designs by Bob Crowley.Traditional, but not cluttered. Fleming has developed as Violetta. She still has that lovely creamy voice, but is more inside the part, then the Los Angeles version. Alfredo is Joseph Calleja, called the Maltese Tenor. He is an example of that pure emotionalism, that Villajon and co have. I obtained this version because of his singing. Thomas Hampson is not quite as good as he was in the Decker Traviata,but he is better, then the Maazel and Conlon baritones, who take the part of the father. The Orchestra of the Royal opera house is conducted by Pappano,passionately, with the correct swift tempo that is required. It is now up to you to decide what Bluray La Traviata to obtain.