La traviata - Royal Opera House, 17 January 2012
Four years ago to the day, a barely-known Albanian soprano named Ermonela Jaho made an unexpected Covent Garden debut in La traviata. Anna Netrebko had pulled out sick at short notice. With just hours to prepare, Jaho charmed, moved and placated the disappointed audience. Last night, with Netrebko sick again, Jaho was called in to repeat her coup - or more accurately, to extend her already-scheduled run.
The trick didn't work quite as well second time round. You couldn't fault Jaho's commitment to the role, but it was obvious something wasn't quite right with her voice. She skipped notes, landed off-centre, scooped, swooped, and teetered, barely scraping to the top on occasions. A cold perhaps? The tension wrought by her nervy, emotionally raw portrayal was amplified by the fear that she wouldn't make it to the end in one piece. A brave and compelling performance but not one for the vocal purists.
First time round, Ermonela's luxury accoutrements included Jonas Kaufmann and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. This time she had to make do with Stephen Costello and Paolo Gavanelli.
Costello underdelivered - as he has, frustratingly, every time I've seen him. He improved throughout the evening, but a great Mi chiamaste does not in itself make a great Alfredo. On top of that he generally has the air of a party guest trapped by a crashing bore - hardly a great visual frame for deathless passion. Quite possibly it's just nerves - but Covent Garden is too big a stage for working out that sort of problem. I suspect a concert stage might show him to better advantage.
As the only native Italian in the cast, Gavanelli displayed an unrivalled sensitivity to the text, but he also captured a side of Germont few singers do - his provincial origins. Germont is not a distinguished patrician but a country gentleman, not quite at ease in the Parisian demi-monde or in tune with its values. A pity that in this under-directed revival his confrontations with Alfredo went for nothing.
Maurizio Benini's tempos seemed leaden and his conception unimaginative after the excitement of Patrick Lange's run in December. There were a few blips in a generally smooth orchestral performance, but the ROH chorus were honed to perfection. As they should be after nearly 20 performances this season.