A new production of 'La traviata' in Rome,
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
On 23 May 2016, Teatro dell'Opera di Roma held a very special gala evening challenging the traditional 7 December opening night of La Scala's 'season'. The dress code required a black tie for gentlemen and evening attire for ladies. During the two intermissions, ice cold champagne was served in the foyer. The gala was for a new production of Verdi's La traviata which, every other year, contends with Bizet's Carmen as the world's most performed opera. But Teatro dell'Opera was presenting a new and much awaited production which may become a feature over the next ten seasons, or even longer. The attention was such that the 19 May International New York Times, which rarely pays attention to opera in Italy, devoted half a page to the production's preparation.
The production stems from an idea of Teatro dell'Opera's manager, Carlo Fuortes, and one of the world's best known high fashion designers, Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani (usually known just as Valentino). An equally world famous movie director, Sofia Coppola, liked the idea of presenting the ultimate traviata with high fashion and a good looking young couple of protagonists (Francesca Dotto and Antonio Poli, alternating with Maria Grazia Schiavo and Arturo Chacón Cruz) and a young conductor (Jader Bignamini). The impressive stage sets are by Nathan Crowley. Valentino Garavani and his long-time associate Giancarlo Giammetti designed four fabulous costumes for Violetta; the others were prepared by two senior members of his maison d'haute couture, Maria Grazie Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, with Teatro dell'Opera's tailor shop. Obviously, at the gala, many exponents of the world of high fashion as well as Rome's 'high society' were in the orchestra seats and boxes.
This year the production will be performed in Rome on fifteen evenings until 30 June. There will most likely be revivals. Already opera houses in Japan and Europe have invited the production.
Sofia Coppola offers a rather traditional staging with the action moved from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. The acting is not extraordinary but may improve as the performances proceed. Each scene has a different basic color: in the first act, Violetta's reception hall is white, in the second act the country house reminds the audience of Corot paintings and Flora's house is almost black (indeed most of the costumes are also black to give better relevance to Violetta's stunning red Valentino evening dress); in the third act dark blue dominates.
Jader Bignamini is one of the most competent young Italian conductors specializing in Verdi. I felt this from the prelude when, in the three-stage portrait of the heroine (ie from the final decline to the Amami, Alfredo melody), Bignamini emphasized the highly chromatic strings dissolving into sobbing appoggiaturas. The promise of the prelude was not maintained through the full performance, though, where he seemed at times to be led by the singers (especially by Roberto Frontali — a veteran Germont) rather than leading them.
Antonio Poli was just perfect as Alfredo. Violetta is one of the most difficult roles in the soprano repertory. Theoretically, it should be performed by two different singers: a light lyric coloratura soprano until half way through the second act, then a dramatic soprano in the third act with Amami, Alfredo being the separation point amongst the two (See 'Innovation and Tradition', 11 December 2013). Only very few sopranos (ie Diana Damrau) can fully face up to the role as composed by Verdi. I had listened to Francesca Dotto as Violetta at La Fenice in Venice some eighteen months ago (See 'True Passion', 31 December 2014); then, I was impressed by her coloratura (ie the E flat at the end of Sempre libera) but I found that she had to grow in her more dramatic section. She is growing.
All the others had high standards. There were standing ovations, as expected at a gala evening starting at 6pm, followed by elegant dinners organized by various associations.
Copyright © 4 June 2016 Giuseppe Pennisi,