La Traviata - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater, Munich, 22 March 2008
I'm not the world's biggest La Traviata fan - it takes an exceptional performance to draw me close to its cold heart. But I happened to be in Munich on the opening night of this revival, and with a second row side Balkon (dress circle) seat available for just 15.50€ - it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Of course, the 1/8 or so of the stage I couldn't see (photo left was taken from my seat) happened to be the part where 7/8 of the action was staged, but such is life. The other disadvantage of these seats is that they're barstool height, and the metal footrest gets uncomfortable quite quickly. I wouldn't chance a Wagner marathon sitting here, but it was OK for the snappy La Traviata.
Günter Krämer's crowd-pleasing Art Deco-ish production has been around for a while, but it's not showing its age too badly. Lacquered walls and sparkling crystal suggest the glamour of Violetta's party life, a leaf-strewn sparely furnished garden the deprivations of the country. Violetta's status in her adopted society is none too clearly signalled, but then this production shies from social comment anyway. Neither concept nor visuals distract from the intimacy of the drama - nor, perilously, from any inadequacies in the main performances. Everyone has to deliver in this show, and it was strongly cast.
Norah Amsellem delivered a highly professional Violetta, powerfully and accurately sung, but about as vulnerable as Heather Mills McCartney. You couldn't fault her, but her gritty spunk completely failed to touch any part of my cynical heart either. A sympathetic Violetta is make or break for Traviata, and Amsellem didn't come close. I began to see Germont's point of view for the first time.
He was most ably played tonight by the distinguished looking/sounding Franco Vassallo, surprisingly not even 40 yet. He has all the natural authority and dignity the role requires. His voice isn't quite the burnished mahogany I'd like to hear, but it's warm and effortlessly projected.
Massimo Giordano made an oddly nervy Alfredo to begin with, his powerful tenor overlaid with goaty bleat. His ardour for Violetta was restrained, but it convinced. He couldn't quite stretch to anger at her presumed betrayal. There was perhaps a little too much dignity and not quite enough passion, but at least he has a genuinely Italianate sound.
Massimo Zanetti conducted with tremendous verve, sometimes recklessly fast. He almost lost the chorus in their two fast numbers, but just about held the reins. The orchestra had tremendous polish throughout, never sinking into that default village-band sound that so often accompanies Verdi. It was symptomatic of a slick performance that could have rolled out of the local BMW factory, but never moved me.