Friday, March 15, 2013
Metropolitan Opera – Verdi’s La Traviata. March 14, 2013.
Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, Family Circle (Seat A101, $47.50).
Conductor – Yannick Nezet-Seguin; Violetta Valery – Diana Damrau, Alfredo Germont – Saimir Pirgu, Giorgio Germont – Placido Domingo.
Story. See previous post.
Watching this opera wasn’t in our original plan. When we turned in a couple of tickets we couldn’t use for another performance, we had some money “left over” and got these tickets. Having Diana Damrau as the headliner helped, and at that time we didn’t know about Placido Domingo. In one sentence: I am glad we went.
It didn’t start that auspiciously. When we got into the auditorium about 10 minutes before curtain, the curtain was already raised, with a balding gentleman in a black coat sitting on a semicircle bench that spanned the set. And the set was basically a white curved room in front of a black backdrop. Other than the bench, the only other prop was a huge clock on the right side of the stage (from an audience’s perspective.) A reading of the Playbill told us “time” was going to be a major theme in the opera, in that the protagonists only had little of it left and there was no holding back of it. So we concluded then the gentleman represented Father Time.
I usually don’t care for too much existential analysis of an opera. Anyone can read into a story and resonate with it morally one way or another, but to pass that understanding off as the new truth about an opera is both unnecessary and presumptuous. Turns out the story is based on the actual story of Dumas (the son) – news to me and probably many other people. To me it has always been about how fleeting happiness is: a short-lived love story interrupted and terminated by other people and disease. (I am writing this blog mostly for myself, so have no qualms about trying to draw a conclusion from it.)
Back to the production. It was basically the same set up for the entire opera. The single red sofa in Act I was replaced with several white sofas with floral covering. The clock was moved from the side to center stage and eventually moved off the stage. The traditional scenes where gypsies dance and matadors sing were “impressionalized,” for lack of a better word. Everyone except Violetta was dressed in black suit, coat and tie, including the women. Scenery changes therefore were mostly in the audience’s minds instead of being actual. For instance, in Act III the stage became a street when the revelers marched in, and it was “transformed” into a bedroom when they were pushed back by Father Time. Anne thought it worked pretty well in this new interpretation. I said the opera worked despite all this nonsense.
Which brings me to my main point: an opera rises and falls on the quality of the music, and in this case the music was simply fabulous. And to be blunt, Damrau was the show, and she did so splendidly. Given her background as a coloratura soprano, there was no doubt that she could sing the part. What was amazing was the range of emotions she managed to convey with her voice, how it was strong, regretful, pensive, and furious when it needed to be. And her voice either blasted with force into the auditorium, or floated wistfully to the ends of the hall. I am sure many have seen the opera before, but there was no doubt that not too far into the program the audience was already moved by the inevitability of the conclusion. When she first appeared on stage (which was at the beginning), she was not quite credulous as a woman who would eventually die of tuberculosis. By the end, though, the thought didn’t even cross my mind. This speaks to how captivating the performance was.
Pirgu, whom I heard for the first time, did an admirable job as Alfredo. But he had two strikes against him: Damrau just did a superb job, and people may wonder how Domingo would have fared if he had sung the part.
Having Domingo in the production was an unexpected bonus for us. We last saw him as Neptune in The Enchanted Island, there his role was more simply standing there than singing. The role of Giorgio Germont is much more substantial, and perhaps a challenge for a tenor. Domingo reached the low notes without any trouble, but seemed to have a bit of a problem with his breathing initially. Could it be a sense of nerves, after all, the prolonged applause when he first appeared on stage might have told him the great expectation the audience had. To Domingo’s credit, I thought he realized the supporting role of Giorgio, and acted accordingly even when he was singing as part of an ensemble; he could have hoarded the scene but chose not to.
The orchestra’s role in many of Verdi’s operas is as accompaniment. There are isolated passages here and there, of course. Unfortunately for them, even the overture was a bit overshadowed by Father Time and Damrau stumbling across the stage. To the extent the orchestra was noticed, it did great.
And Father Time? He was that, I’m sure. But he was also the doctor, and – in my view – the grim reaper. But the interpretation is up to the individual, isn’t it?
We had a late lunch with the McNallys and the Hwangs in Marlboro, so I just had cake and Anne had soup at Europan. To top off a great evening, we found free off-street parking.
I couldn’t find a review in the New York Times, but here is one from The Star Tribune. The headline “Diana Damrau sensational” says it all.