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Verdi La Traviata

Violetta Valery Norah Amsellem
Alfredo Germont José Bros
Giorgio Germont Renato Bruson
Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Jesus López-Cobos
Director, Set and Costume Designer Pier Luigi Pizzi

Choreographer Marco Berriel
Lighting Designer Sergio Rossi
Costume Designer Giovanna Buzzi

Teatro Real, Madrid 22/25 March 2005


Opus Arte DVD OA 0934 D


This absorbing and inspiring DVD is the culmination of an extraordinary story, about which I have learned from surfing the web. Pier Luigi Pizzi's production, with the opera upstaged to the 1940s, was intended to be premiered starring Angela Gheorghiu.

She arrived in Madrid a fortnight after the other performers, who included the distinguished Renato Bruson, no less. Then, after appearing but once at rehearsal she pulled out, for reasons that we find incomprehensible, having apparently decided that Pizzi's interpretation of the opera was too "vulgar" for her (she'd been briefed with the details of the production months before).

That production, which marked López-Cobos' debut as the company's music director, was scheduled to open a forthight on. From the only review I have found of the October 2003 premiere, I read (in Spanish) that Gheorghiu "left the path wide open to one of her most dangerous competitors".

The sopranos Norah Amsellem and Annalisa Rapagliosi were engaged to replace her and Diario Directo found Norah Amsellem a bit nervous in the first act, unbalanced and with too much vibrato. As the performance continued she showed herself more secure, with beautiful legato singing and pianissimi of exceptional quality. "The DVD will show - - ".

Indeed it has!

Two years on, when it was filmed, there is no questioning Norah Amsellem's confidence and ability to withstand the closest scrutiny by microphone and camera. "Live" DVDs benefit from the patching possibility, and this one is seamlessly created from two performances. The split sets are uncluttered and totally effective and the costumes are elegant and appropriate; to us, nothing jarred or was in the least meretricious, and its economy was a welcome change to recent operas with gratuitous oriental treatments (e.g. ENO's latest Orfeo and Butterfly).

The heart of the opera is in the fraught relationships of Violetta with her Alfredo, José Bros, and his resolute father, whose rigorous stance did not become wholly anachronistic after the 1850s, and indeed is not completely so in societies everywhere even now (censorship thwarted Verdi's fervent wish to have La Traviata premiered in contemporary costume!). The crucial solo scenes and duets are shown with a stillness which allows for reflection; an essence of opera to set against the bustle of activity in the concerted party scenes.

Norah Amsellem, slender and beautiful, encompasses for home viewers all the moods to be conveyed in one of the most demanding of all operas, and she is disturbingly haggard in the poignant death scene; no prettification of terminal illness here! For those of us who find a good DVD well able to challenge iconic performances on CD, this Traviata will retain a prominent place on our shelves, and I look forward to watching it through again.

Camera work and lighting are excellent, as is sound quality. The only disappointment is the limited content of the Extras, though it is good to hear the principals talk off-stage.

Strongly recommended to Verdi collectors.

' - - the Royal Opera lost two of its first-choice Violettas, it managed to get good replacements. Norah Amsellem did the first few performances with alternating Alfredos and Germonts. Later, Ana Maria Martinez - - signed up for the remaining nights - - Amsellem has the more frail physique and a deeper understanding of the role - - some heart-stopping soft singing and the most upsetting death scene of any Violetta I have seen in this production - - ' The Times, February 2005


See also PGW's DVD review of the Gheorghiu/Solti ROH Traviata - an important moment in the career of this now adored young diva - from our early days of DVD, when we discovered we had compatability problems and needed to buy a new TV set to be able to watch it in colour !


Photos: Javier del Real

© Peter Grahame Woolf