domingo, abril 12, 2009

Still another "Traviata"

I am certainly not alone in having reached saturation point with some tired operatic warhorses, such as "Carmen", "La Boheme", "Tosca", "The Barber of Seville" and of course Verdi´s "La Traviata". But it is a truism that people flock like faithful parishioners whenever they are put on stage, no matter if well or ill. I keep being amazed at the lack of curiosity and the passive intellectual stance of such an attitude; still, that´s what happens and as a reviewer I´m condemned to endless repetitions.

This year the otherwise very interesting season of Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL) started out with a particularly unfortunate choice, "La Traviata", for it had long been known that this opera was also in the plans of Juventus Lyrica (JL), and furthermore this institution likewise initiated its activities with this opera in their original plans; when BAL insisted in staging it, JL decided to postpone their presentation, ending the season with it. Really a pity.

About this famous creation I want to stress some points. First: one needs to place it in an historical perspective to realise that at the time of its premiere (1853) it was quite a shocker: even in the sweetened and softened Francesco Piave libretto, it showed a contemporary whore on the operatic stage, and indeed the Austrian censure in Italy forced the composer to place the action in the early eighteenth century to make it more palatable. Of course, Alexandre Dumas Junior had been one of the innumerable lovers of Marie Duplessis, the model for his novel and play "The Lady of the Camellias", rebaptised Marguerite Gautier by the writer and Violetta Valéry by the librettist. As a teenager I saw the admirable George Cukor film "Camille" and of course I was bowled over by Greta Garbo; when I revisited it as an adult I found that she was far too refined for the part .

Second: why is it that Violetta didn´t pass on the tuberculosis bacilli to her men? It was supposed to be very contagious!

Third: it serves no useful purpose to change the time period in the staging. Paris 1850, that´s what it should be if you are interested at all in the social mores. Although even in our dissolute times it´s still not done to marry a whore, other aspects have changed: aristocrats that keep women are on the wane, bourgeois fathers are more flexible, and TB and the Koch bacillus are much more under control.

Fourth: the Piave libretto could be much improved. E.g., is Germont deaf that he doesn´t hear Violetta saying "don´t you know I am struck by a terrible illness"? For not only he has no reaction, but later tells her that she will have a happy life… And there are plenty of loose ends.

But of course the music is the thing, and so much of it finds Verdi at his most inspired that one forgives some miscalculations, such as the two trivial choruses in the Third Act. Such things as the big Violetta/Germont duet or the protagonist´s "Addio del passato" are among his greatest utterances.

And how did BAL´s version measure up? Acceptably, no more. There was a point

of interest: the debut of an Argentine soprano, Ivanna Speranza, who started her European career about five years ago. Her parts so far, such as Adina and Nannetta, show her has a light lyrical soprano: hardly the ticket for Violetta. Naturally, there´s the notorious obstacle for lyrical-dramatic sopranos of the florid "Sempre libera", but most of the music requires strong center and low registers and a profoundly dramatic interpretation. A role in which Muzio and Callas worked wonders. Personal reactions to timbre vary widely; Speranza sounds to me frequently uneven and metallic, not rich enough. Her presence is unprepossessing and she is particularly unconvincing in spoken bits such as when she reads Germont´s letter. Now and again she does some nice vocal things, witness her soft and tender "Dite alla giovine", but she is not a Traviata.

She wasn´t helped by a weak Alfredo; Arnaldo Quiroga sounded and acted ill at ease, far from his best work (Rinuccio in "Gianni Schicchi"). Omar Carrión was his predictable self as Germont: noble singing of fine line but limited expansion and a severe impersonation that however is leavened by some tenderness. Of the others I found the ladies (Vanina Guilledo as Flora, Rocío Arbizu as Annina) more satisfying than the men (a too soft-grained Gastone –Gustavo De Gennaro- a bland Grenvil –Walter Schwarz- and contrariwise too rough-and-ready Douphol and D´Obigny –Ernesto Bauer and Claudio Rotella).

The enthusiastic choir was led by Juan Casasbellas. The best thing was a vehement but controlled reading by Carlos Vieu with a choice orchestra. His intensity and thorough knowledge (he conducted without a score!) meant an important plus.

The production by Pablo Maritano placed the action apparently around 1950, considering the miniskirts and the gowns designed by Sofía Di Nunzio (some rather untasteful). The stage designs by Diego Siliano include some imaginative and beautiful projections of the city and otherwise respond to Maritano´s ideas; e.g., a First Act alternating between the vestibule and the main hall of Violetta´s party or a Fourth where her bed is prolonged by stylized perspectives. The Third Act was the weakest, including a poor choreography by Cecilia Elías. Elsewhere there were some good ideas along with very conventional movements.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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