La Traviata [Import]
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La Traviata stands or falls on its lead singers and in Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon this 2005 Salzburg Festival performance has a pair whose electric interactions and brilliant singing are irresistible. If Netrebko can't quite provide the vocal bloom of the great Violettas of the past, hers is a lovely voice used with intelligence and dramatic intensity and she has the coloratura chops to deliver her Act I showpieces with flair. Villazon's tenor has ping on top, terrific color, and an impressive range of rubato, dynamic shadings, and interesting phrasing that makes Alfredo's music sound newly minted. The Germont is Thomas Hampson, no Verdi baritone but an astute singer and actor. Chorus and smaller roles are fine, the orchestra first-rate. Carlo Rizzi has odd notions about the music (usually too fast, sometimes way too slow) but this Traviata triumphs despite his conducting.
Willy Decker's controversial production features stark sets on a curved white stage, spare furnishings, and an overlay of symbolic devices: the figure of Death stalks Violetta in every act, a huge clock shows her time running out and becomes a focus for stage action, even turning into Act II's card table. The singers run, dance, and spend a lot of time on their knees or backs. Color schemes bathe Violetta's courtesan period in bold red, her idyll with Alfredo in flower prints. And there's more along those lines. Even those who usually prefer more conservative productions should find Willy Decker's staging absolutely riveting. Much of the action goes on inside the characters' heads, making this superficially extrovert opera an interior drama that sheds new light on its possibilities. Love or hate the production, you won't want to miss this Traviata for the leads and for staging that must be taken seriously. A bonus disc includes an interesting rehearsal. --Dan Davis --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Things wouldn't be so bad if the singing were good. But Netrebko voice lacks the quality to sing Violeta's arias. The coloratura is kept minimal, and the intonation is not perfect either.
The director didn't help her, and Violeta looks healthy until she dies, out of the blue. Yes, we have a clock that is supposed to replace the acting.
There is also a role that was specially created. A man keeps loitering around the stage, probably trying to personify the destiny.
Is this Eurotrash? For me, this is slightly worse.
I can't say you should't buy this DVD. If you love Anna, you may try it, and maybe you are more forgiving.
I would not recommend this production for anyone who is not familiar with the basic story of the opera. The staging does not always agree with the dialogue and this might cause some confusion. For newcomers I would recommend either the Covent Garden version staring Angela Gheorghiu, the Thetro Real Madrid production staring Norah Amsellem or the Los Angeles production staring Rene Fleming.
Amazon give the an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 for this DVD. In fact it is 1.78:1.
Although the performances are as flawless as possible, the staging is a poor fit for this artistry . A Very grim waste of blu-ray technology and wonderful music.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The performances are almost universally outstanding. The star of this opera is without doubt the lovely Russian soprano Anna Netrebko who sings the role of Violetta. One critic called it "the Netrebko show." Besides a gorgeous voice, she is a stunning beauty and a joy just to look at. Rolando Villazon is also superb in his role as Alfredo. And Thomas Hampson makes a very distinguished Germont. There is little to fault here in terms of performance.
The production itself reflects a continuing tendency to reinterpret or reinvent opera. This is a post-modernist, ultra minimalist staging of Traviata. There is barely anything onstage except for 2 or 3 couches and a large clock. Most of the time you just see the bare white stage with the singers. The final scene takes place on a totally empty stage, with just the performers singing. I wonder if European audiences are really so sick of traditional operatic staging that they must resort to this stripdown version or is it more the case of pretentious avant-garde producers run amuck? I may be old fashioned but I still want to see some semblance of a set when I watch opera.
The fact that the performers are still able to hold the audience spellbound despite the utter paucity of the set and stage design, speaks volumes for the luminous quality of these perfomances. But I agree with the other reviewers here who wrote that this shouldn't be a first choice recommendation and should not be someone's first introduction to the opera. Someone new to the plot would be quite lost, as all the action takes place on the same 1 or 2 couches in front of the same large white clock.
The DVD is presented in the new widescreen format of 1.78:1 (enhanced for widescreen TV). Picture quality is excellent with sharp images and warm, vibrant, accurate colors. Black levels are perfectly set. Audio is available in 2.0 PCM Stereo (CD quality) and DTS 5.1. Sound is gorgeously rich and sumptuous. The original Italian libretto is included as optional subtitles, along with 5 other languages including English. The onscreen menu only allows direct access to the 3 Acts, although there are a total of 39 individual cues which you can navigate with your remote. The second disc contains about an hour's worth of extras, mainly a 43min documentary on the rehearsals with interviews of the participants, an introduction to the opera by Villazon and a trailer for Anna's other DVD - "The Woman, The Voice." There is a 30 page souvenir booklet with color photographs of the production as well as production notes and a detailed synopsis. My only criticism here is the packaging. For an expensive "Premium Edition" DVD, the carboard foldout format, without even a slipcase to hold it in, is disgraceful. I can't even put it on the shelf without it falling open and tipping over. Still it is good to finally have a memento of this lovely performance. Opera lovers who cannot bear the staging (or lack of it) may want to buy the audio CD instead.
However, now that I can see and appreciate director Willi Decker's spare, modernist staging at the 2005 Salzburg Festival on this 2006 Deluxe Edition DVD package, the opera becomes a more emotionally transcendent experience. He takes the passing of time as his primary leitmotif in the form of a gigantic clock with Death taking an ever-present human form. The costuming is stylishly modern-dress, while the few color-coordinated set pieces would look appropriate in an Upper West Side art gallery. Based on Alexandre Dumas's play, "The Lady of the Camellias", the opera's tragic love story is the same in this adaptation, but the overall attitude reflects a greater sense of liberation with the period melodrama mostly excised. Purists will be offended, especially those married to the Callas or more recent Angela Gheorghiu versions.
As the passionate Violetta Valéry, Russian soprano Anna Netrebko is an inarguably stunning woman made for the camera. Less the courtesan of the classic version and more a hedonistic party girl (like a more melancholy Holly Golightly), parading in her deep red cocktail dress, she convincingly performs the role with alternating waves of gusto and poignancy. Vocally, Netrebko complements her fiery presence with an impressive performance that gives way to equal parts great passion and deep love once she discovers renewed life with her lover Alfredo. Offering shimmering roulades, she nails her much anticipated Act I climax, "E stano...Ah, fors'è lui...Sempre libera", and maximizes her lower register in her burnished handling of the final aria, "Gran dio! Morir si giovane!". Her less-than-perfect Italianate diction is not as problematic here as it is on CD when we are robbed of her beauty.
Given the dominance of Violetta, Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón more than holds his own with Netrebko as the smitten Alfredo. In fact, he is a better actor than she in displaying his character's tentative nature at the beginning, followed in turn by his swooning romanticism, seething anger and broken-hearted resignation. Displaying an exceptionally agile voice and an almost improvisational-sounding style in his phrasing and inflections, he brings his arsenal of skills together most effectively in his Act II opening, "Lunge de lei... De' miei bollenti spiriti...O mio rimorso". In this scene, Alfredo and Violetta prance around in persistent afterglow in their floral bathrobes on a matching floral sofa.
In fact, there is a great deal of physicality in the production to make the sexual tension reverberate, and the party-loving, black-suited chorus is equally as animated. All the while, Netrebko and Villazón generate true chemistry while blending seamlessly in their duets. American baritone Thomas Hampson comes across much better on the DVD than the CD, where he is recognizably the weak link. Looking more engaged onstage, he brings the appropriate emotional fervor to his confrontation scenes with Violetta and sounds effectively resolute in his ending aria in Act II, "Di provenza il mar, il suol". The death scene still seems too elongated for the drama preceding it, and Rizzi does not help with his lugubrious pacing at this juncture.
The entire opera is on the first disc of the 2006 two-DVD set, and it is blessedly captured with clarity both visually and aurally. The second disc contains a number of extras, the most important being a 45-minute behind-the-scenes featurette chronicling the painstaking preparation of the production. Netrebko and an especially precocious Villazón are interviewed throughout. Villazón also does a three-minute introduction of the opera in German, obviously done for its TV airing. There is an automatic slide show of photos from the production set to the "Brindisi", a Netrebko discography, and lastly, a ten-minute highlights segment of Netrebko's rather self-aggrandizing video collection, "The Woman...The Voice".
That's thanks to a wonderful cast who live their roles with all their might. People who think that the "Dream Couple" -- Netrebko and Villazón -- are an over-hyped media creation are just flat wrong. Yes, they get a lot of hype, but they deserve it. Both have beautiful voices that touch the heart, solid vocal techniques to back them up, and outstanding acting ability. That they're also great to look at is a wonderful bonus. I wish opera folks weren't so inclined to always bring up great singers of the past -- she's no Callas, he's no Corelli -- to put down the singers of the present. These two are brilliant in their own right and should be treasured for the extraordinarily fresh vitality they bring to the opera world.
Totally committed in her acting and singing, Anna Netrebko is a heartbreakingly vulnerable Violetta; her third act had me weeping. Rolando Villazón made Alfredo into a wonderfully believable young man in love: a somewhat immature and socially gauche young country boy who hates Violetta's nasty crowd (they're very nasty in this production!) but loves her with a winning, virile passion -- and a frightening touch of jealousy. His vibrant singing is very exciting, but unfortunately his big Act II cavatina doesn't achieve its full impact because of Decker's hyper staging here. No tenor should have to sing such a tough aria while pulling on his pants! The interpolated love scene in Act II between Violetta and Alfredo was actually a great addition because it shows us a little of the lovers' blissful relationship (which otherwise is something we have to take on faith) and it provides the only light moments in an otherwise rather grim staging. And it's delightfully spicy without being at all in bad taste!
I have more reservations about Thomas Hampson as Father Germont. Though his voice is rather thin and dry for Verdi, he sounds much better in the DVD then in the "Traviata" CD that was released last fall. And, though slightly too mannered and stilted, his acting of the domineering father is very strong and sometimes even touching as he realizes he's making a mess of things. His aria "Di Provenza il mar"comes across here as a harrowing piece of emotional blackmail rather than just a beautiful song.
My reservations come with some of Decker's heavy-handed use of symbols to tell what's really a very human story. I don't like the chorus all dressed as men, Violetta's tormenters. They come across as obnoxious cartoons rather than people, and the performance generally goes downhill when they're on.
The Vienna Philharmonic also does not come across as the great, subtle orchestra that it is. Chalk that up to conductor Carlo Rizzi I guess.
But where it really counts, this DVD scores. Get it for Netrebko and Villazón's performances if nothing else.
And try to get the Premium Edition with the bonus DVD with its delicious backstage at the rehearsals feature. Netrebko, Villazón and Decker are very candid and illuminating about what they're trying to achieve, and the two stars -- especially Villazón who is irrepressibly hilarious! -- provide a lot of laughs. Pompous diva and divo they're definitely not! Wonderfully entertaining!!
The most bothersome flaw here was the Violetta. This is, after all, her opera, and if the soprano singing the part has problems the whole suffers. Her voice seemed unsettled in the first act and the most noticeable thing was her inability to cut through the orchestral and choral sound at vital moments. 'É strano ... 'Ah, fors' è lui' was strangely unmoving and the voice showed some strain in both the coloratura and the high notes. Things got better in the succeeding acts although there were still moments when the voice seemed unsupported, breathy and almost inaudible. At other moments, though, as in 'Ah, dite alla giovine' Mei produced some stunning soft singing that went straight the heart. Perhaps I'm being unjustly critical. Certainly Mei's acting was effective and in the opera's third act she was utterly touching.
Thomas Hampson is one of opera's treasures, of course, and his impersonation of Giorgio Germont is practically patented. In this production the setting has been updated to what appears to be the early 1900s. Germont appears for all the world to be a Swiss banker (fitting perhaps, given this is the Zürich Opera House). Hampson's acting is nuanced and his vocal contribution is thrilling. 'Pura siccome un angelo' brings tears to one's eyes, for all that Germont is being a bit of jerk when he importunes Violetta on behalf of his daughter. 'Di Provenza il mar' brings the biggest applause of the evening. His participation in the heart-breaking third act could not be bettered.
The big surprise for me, since I'd never heard of him before, was the Polish tenor Piotr Beczala. He is an attractive young man with a Domingo-like baritonal tenor with flexibility, thrust, and heft, and Beczala handles it with intelligence and taste. This is a biggish lyric sound that can rise to the challenges of the score's dramatic moments, but supply honeyed tone when required, as in the final duet, 'Parigi, o cara.' For me, this young man is a real discovery. 'Un dì felice' is marvelous. The confrontation scene in Act II is perhaps dramatically a bit histrionic but the singing is right on.
Welser-Möst is a fine opera conductor, as his work at the Zürich opera house has shown. His orchestra plays like angels for him. I liked this DVD as a whole and don't wish to focus too much on the difficulties I've pointed out.
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, Spanish, French, Japanese. Sound: PCM Stereo, Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1. TT=128mins.
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