Tuesday March 20, 2007 - TRAVIATA is the opera I've seen more often than any other, about 50 times. I've walked out on a couple of Violettas: Kiri Te Kanawa (just dull) and Cristina Gallardo-Domas (just awful) and I've also seen every sort of production you could imagine. I've come to know every note and 90% of the words. And I still love it.
The Met's Zeffirelli production does nothing to enhance the intimacy of the love story. The elevator scene-change from bedroom to deserted salon for the final scene is a gimmick whose time as passed. Audiences love to ooooh and aaaah the sets, especially the garish one for Flora's party.
Some excellent performances in smaller roles, notably Tony Stevenson (a sweet-voiced Gastone), the stalwart John Cheek (Dr. Grenvil) and tall, big-voiced John Hancock (Baron Douphol). Leann Pantaleo is an attractive Flora..
I saw Krassimira Stoyanova's Violetta a few seasons back; not knowing anything about her I went on a whim and loved it. She was again very impressive and expressive last night though possibly not on peak vocal form. It is good to hear this music sung with a clear, warm & well-projected middle range. All evening Stoyanova relied on piano/pianissimo in the high register, creating luminous effects; but there were times I craved a bit more 'zing' on the upper notes. Her 'Addio del passato' and the entire final scene showed Stoyanova's voice to best advantage.
Jonas Kaufmann (Ken Howard photo, above) is a tall, slender and very good-looking fellow who looks 'of the period' with his pale complexion and tangled mass of long, dark hair. In Act I, Kaufmann showed us an Alfredo who is nearly paralyzed with shyness at the prospect of finally meeting the woman he has loved from afar for a year. Modest and reticent, he is petrified when called on to propose a toast but he sees his do-or-die moment and won't let it slip away. Finally alone, Stoyanova and Kaufmann treated us to a wonderfully shaded 'Un di felice' with a fine blend of timbres and a long kiss at the end; Alfredo's passion has overcome his inhibitions. Kaufmann sang the Act II aria with his darkish timbre underlining the lyrical phrases; dynamic variety and a touch of Italianate sob put a perfect finish on his expression of romantic contentment. Moments later, in the cabaletta, Kaufmann's sense of excitement propelled the music forward; his high-C was not perfect but was the right reckless response of the young man as he rushes off for Paris to set things right. At Flora's party, Kaufmann lets Alfredo's confusion and jealousy bubble up into a tempestuous denunciation of Violetta; some lyric tenors are really taxed here but Kaufmann has reserves of tone which he poured on the hapless woman along with the degrading flinging of the money. In the final scene, Stoyanova & Kaufmann gave us a tender 'Parigi, O Cara' and then, overcome with remorse, Kaufmann helplessly watched his beloved die.
Dwayne Croft became a favorite baritone of mine after I first saw him at Glimmerglass in the early 1990s. Since then he has had his vocal ups and downs, reportedly being plagued by sinus troubles. A this performance, he started very strongly. The duets with Stoyanova were beautifully sung and phrased by both singers, rightly becoming the centerpiece of the opera. But later, Croft seemed nervous in 'Di Provenza'. Armiliato gave him a fast tempo so as not to stretch the line too taxingly, but Croft did not seem comfortable and a bit of roughness threatened near the end. After that, Croft receded vocally and dramatically as the evening wound to its close.
Dmitry and I were amused but ultimately annoyed by the coughs, sneezes and snorts from the audience during the Act III prelude. It seemed that every bar of the music had to be punctuated with a consumptive obbligato; an ironic contrast to the utter silence during the whole of the recent MEISTERSINGER but as Dmitry pointed out: Wagnerites would have killed...