'Traviata' on the lagoon,
by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
Verdi's La traviata has always been closely associated with La Fenice Theatre in Venice. It was premiered there on 6 March 1853. A fabulous production (Callas, Albanese, Questa, Benois) took place there in January 1953 to celebrate the first centenary. La traviata was chosen as the opera for the re-opening of La Fenice in November 2004, after the reconstruction of the Theatre following a fire in January 1996. It was not only a major innovative production (Ciofi, Sacca, Maazel, Carsen) but also the real best seller of Italian operas over the last ten years.
The one hundredth performance took place on 23 November 2014. This season nearly forty performances are scheduled until 4 October 2015. These are organized in batches of some five performances a month. Of course, although the stage set and the stage direction is the same, conductors and main singers do change from one batch of performances to another, as also happens frequently in repertory opera houses in Central and Eastern Europe. The cast is generally young. I attended the first performance of the first batch — an evening, as mentioned, to celebrate, with a gala, the one hundredth staging of the production.
La traviata requires no introduction. It has been reviewed many times, including recently when it inaugurated the 2013-2014 La Scala season with a controversial production (Innovation and Tradition, 10 December 2013). Robert Carsen's production (with stage sets and costumes by Patrick Kinmonth and lighting by Peter Van Preat) stirred some minor controversy in 2004 but was immediately a major success, as documented by the large number of people attending the performances. In short, in this production, Violetta's life has two contradictory attractions: lust for money from her job as escort for wealthy men and sex worker — she nearly swims in banknotes in the first scene of the opera — and the desire for a pure existence (an Autumn wood dominating the first scene of the second act and reappearing in the death scene at the end of the opera). The dramaturgy is excellent and acting is also well focused on the details. The costumes and the sets are very colorful in the two party/reception scenes but become very sober in the woodland scene.
In the performances I attended, the musical director of La Fenice, Diego Matheuz, was in the pit. He is young (born in 1984) and 'latino'. The audience could feel that he sensed the tragedy of the young lover searching for a really honest love in a corrupt society. He conducted with true passion. Violetta was Francesca Dotto, a young soprano who alternates coloratura and dramatic roles. Although, in the first act, she was a bit weak in the coloratura aria Sempre Libera, she gained strength as the performance proceeded and she sang the more dramatic parts well. Her Alfredo was Leonardo Cortellazzi, a young lyric tenor. Marco Caria was a well-rounded Giorgio Germont. All the others in the various secondary roles were very good.
It was a gala night. A large part of the audience had travelled from Austria as part of an organized opera tour. There were accolades both as the curtain fell and at the dinner with the artists following the performance.