Traviata, La


Traviata

Giuseppe Verdi - La Traviata

La Monnaie, Brussels, 2012 | Ádám Fischer, Andrea Breth, Simona Šaturová, Salomé Haller, Carole Wilson, Sébastien Guèze, Scott Hendricks, Dietmar Kerschbaum, Till Fechner, Jean-Luc Ballestra, Guillaume Antoine, Gijs Van der Linden, Matthew Zadow, Kris Belligh | Internet streaming, 15 December 2012

Let’s not beat around the bush here, because this controversial new production of Verdi’s La Traviata directed by Andrea Breth for La Monnaie in Brussels certainly makes its point directly and in no uncertain terms right from the outset. Prostitution is a nasty business. Courtesans, like Violetta Valéry in La Traviata, may once have had a glamorous allure, but the reality was and is quite different. The ultimate fate of any woman in those circumstances as the years and the lifestyle takes its toll, as they struggle to maintain appearances and simply survive, dependent upon the goodwill of others, is not a pretty one. Giuseppe Verdi acknowledged this as far as censorship allowed in La Traviata - and even then it would not allow the work to be depicted as Verdi wanted as a contemporary drama - showing a ‘fallen woman’ unable to find love and happiness. Director Andrea Breth goes much further.

Violetta’s origins are shown right from the outset of the La Monnaie production during the Overture, the young woman being brought in from some East European country via a human trafficking operation and sold off to a prostitution ring. The opening party scene of the work then retains the forced glamour depicted by Verdi’s setting of the scene, while at the same time showing that the underlying reality is not so pleasant. Semi-naked women pose glamorously from display windows behind a party that seems to be taking place in a high-class brothel, one that does a line in S&M, of which Violetta appears to be the Madame. Amid the drunken revelry, one of the guests, wearing a plaster cast, his trousers half on and half around his ankles, vomits over one of the semi-conscious female guests. At the end of the evening as Violetta ponders the shy advances of a new young admirer Alfredo (’Ah! Fors’è lui…‘), one straggling reveller, in a state where she is unable to find her stockings and shoes, snorts some cocaine in the background.

That’s not a typical way to depict Act I of La Traviata, but the brilliance of this production - a controversial one certainly that has stirred up a great deal of debate and which eventually forced La Monnaie to issue a statement with backing from other artists on the freedom of artistic expression - is that it remains musically and thematically faithful to the strengths of Verdi’s writing and the subject, making it contemporary and realistic in a way that the composer himself was prevented from doing by the censor. It’s not out to shock through a controversial treatment as much as to shock the audience into understanding and relating to the reality that Verdi was trying to get across. It’s a measure of the success of the treatment that this version of La Traviata - a work that unfortunately has all too often become a glamorous star turn for a big-name diva - is one of the most powerful of recent years, revitalised and sparkling, modern and relevant. It’s what La Traviata is all about.

The modern revisionist elements and the controversial sexual content of the production elsewhere similarly manage to strike a near-perfect balance between modern relevance and fidelity to the original intentions of the work. Scene 2 of Act I does little more than show an Alfredo so transported with love that he paints some graffiti love messages on a residence that currently has the workmen in. It’s the depiction of the revelry however in the pivotal Act II confrontation that is the most troubling part of the work - and it should indeed be a troubling scene. Keeping to the theme of the unpleasant reality of prostitution and the exploitation of women, Breth uses strong imagery and behaviour that is reminiscent of Pasolini’s film ‘Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom‘. (No, that’s not chocolate that one of the older guests is smearing over a young under-aged schoolgirl’s face). As a very difficult, near-unwatchable work about the dehumanisation and commoditisation of the human body, the corruption of wealth and power (money speaking just as much in Verdi’s day as in the present), Salò is a relevant work to reference. It isn’t taken to quite the same lengths in La Traviata here, but there’s enough to make a point in the strongest way possible, and enough evidently, to cause quite a stir in the world of opera.

As troubling as all this is intended to be, the ultimate degradation of Violetta and women in her position should be just as forceful in the final Act, as Breth’s vision proves to be quite as perceptive and capable of conveying the full intent and force of the underlying meaning with all the necessary impact. Violetta’s maidservant Annina is forced to pay the doctor through services provided on her knees, out on streets in a dark alley where her mistress is dying, wrapped up in plastic sheeting, as a heroin user shoots up further down from her. It’s as powerful an expression as you can imagine of the abject misery that is more than likely to be the fate of any aging prostitute who is seriously ill and has bills to pay. It may not be the romantic death of a tragic heroine through consumption in the bedroom of an elegant Parisian mansion that is more commonly shown in productions of this opera, but this version gets more directly to the heart of what Verdi was writing about and it is actually relatively mild to the harsh daily reality of the violence, abuse and exploitation that takes place on the streets in real life.

While the dramatic and thematic concept has been carefully thought through and put across with fidelity and a sense of purpose, that’s only half the battle with putting on La Traviata. The singing and performance of the work itself needs to be just as considerate of the work, and fortunately the casting and the conducting of the La Monnaie orchestra by Ádám Fischer were perfectly in accord with the staging. Early on, I liked how rhythm and tempo employed during Violetta’s ‘Sempre libera‘ matched Violetta’s tentative exhilaration at the discovery of love, tempered at the same time by the first signs of her illness. The judgement of each of the subsequent scenes however is just as sensitive and precise to the characterisation and the content, while also finding a way to make those diverse scenes and emotions flow naturally one after another. A most impressive account.

The singing is more of a mixed bag, but by and large it worked hand-in-hand with the drama. I always find it difficult to adjust to a new singer in one of the most famous roles in opera, but if Simona Šaturová didn’t have the force or technique of some of the more notable sopranos who have sung the role, she nonetheless made a deep impression and gained greater credibility and strength as the work progressed. All the roles were well-cast from the point of view of age and looks - that doesn’t often happen - and if Sébastien Guèze wasn’t the strongest singer who has ever sung the role, he reflected Alfredo’s youth and inexperience well, and with some degree of distinction and personality. Scott Hendricks wouldn’t be my ideal Giorgio Germont, but he also fits in well with the production. He can be a bit wayward and over-enthusiastic, but here he was relatively restrained, if still a little mannered and imprecise. In his ‘pura siccome un angelo‘, there’s a neat twist where the father uses its seductive appeal as a come-on to Violetta - another instance of the abuse of power - and Hendrix makes it work. It’s just one example of how the relationships have been thought through here - the father/son relationship between Hendrix and Guèze also works well - creating a convincing and realistic dynamic, showing a fine and considered understanding of the characters and the situations they find themselves in.

There’s a reason why La Traviata is the most performed opera in the world. Verdi’s magnificent writing is of course the primary reason.  The composer’s later works are more sophisticated with greater dramatic expression and through-composition, but La Traviata is unmatched for the brilliance of melody and situational invention that brings its drama to life. But it’s also notable for the universality of the uncompromising sentiments the work and the music expresses on human relationships, on love, betrayal and mortality that still have the ability to reach us and touch us through their relevance. La Traviata was designed to show off Verdi’s brilliance as a composer - and it does - but it was also intended to create a scandal in its frank depiction of the attitudes of a corrupt and hypocritical society towards “fallen women” who strayed outside the boundaries of what was deemed respectable. This scandalous production at La Monnaie is a thrilling reminder of just how vital a work La Traviata remains.

The live broadcast of the 15th December performance of La Traviata is still available for free viewing on the ARTE Live Web site, without subtitles. La Monnaie’s recording of the production, taken from performances of 15th and 18th December, is also available for free viewing from their own website, with French and Dutch subtitles only.

TraviataGiuseppe Verdi - La Traviata

Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Liège, 2012 | Luciano Acocella, Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera, Annick Massis, Xavier Cortes, Giovanni Meoni, Alexise Yerna, Cristiano Cremonini, Julie Bailly, Roger Joakim, Ziyan Atfeh, Patrick Delcour, Marcel Arpots, Iouri Lel, Marc Tissons | Live Internet Streaming, 26 April 2012

It’s almost becoming de rigueur for nudity and topless women to feature in opera productions these days, but up until Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera’s production for the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège, I’d never seen it done before in La Traviata. A popular repertory work, Verdi’s La Traviata is usually done in a straightforward traditional period manner, but Verdi - himself subject to gossip and rumour about his relationship with Giuseppina Strepponi at the time of writing the work - wanted the opera to challenge contemporary attitudes towards unconventional relationships, and the frank directness of the La Traviata was indeed quite shocking for its time. Now all we have to “shock” an audience is a flash of a topless woman. I don’t want to be seen to be making excuses for the practice, but you can see how it could be valid in the context of Verdi’s other shocker of this period, Rigoletto, where nudity featured during the orgies of the Duke of Mantua in David McVicar’s production at the Royal Opera House, and I suppose the same case could be made for La Traviata. When you think about it, Violetta Valéry’s profession as a courtesan - the “fallen woman” of the opera’s title, necessarily treated with circumspection due to censorship restrictions in Verdi’s time - is likewise often also delicately glossed over in stage productions. Not so here.

One could make a case then that the use of nudity in all three acts in the Liège production is not just there for shock or titillation, but that it’s relevant to the themes and tied in with the structure of La Traviata itself. Originally titled ‘Love and Death’ during its composition, these two themes are vital to the impact of the work and they are where Verdi places the most emphasis in his scoring, with Violetta considering the possibilities of true love in the beautiful ‘Ah, fors’è lui’ in Act I, and reflecting on her death in ‘Addio del passato’ in Act III. On their own, certainly, these pieces are strong enough to encompass the beauty, the tragedy and complexity of emotions that have been engendered in Violetta over the short period of her time with Alfredo, but if the staging can draw the attention of the audience to what is being expressed, then so much the better. In Act I then, the aria is set alongside beside the revelry of the guests on a huge bed during ‘Si ridesta in ciel l’aurora’, while in Act III, there is an echo of a reminder of these times as Violetta hears the revelry of party-goers from her death bed. Act II meanwhile uses the nudity effect of the “bella ritrosetta” (“saucy little beauty”) to emphasis the connection between Love and Death in the play of Gastone and the Bullfighters, which otherwise seems like a piece of entertainment unconnected with the work.

Traviata

Unfortunately, while there is relevance in how this all fits in with the opera and its themes - scored brilliantly by Verdi at his most melodic and inventive - there’s not a great deal else that stands out in the direction of this production, which struggles to find any interesting way to respond to the challenge of staging the familiar settings of the work. The first scene of Act II in particular really drags along. As heartfelt as the emotions are during the long scene between Violetta and Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont as he tries to persuade her to give up her love affair with his son for the sake of his reputation and his family, and as well sung as these key moments of appeal are from both sides here during ‘Pura siccome un angelo’ and ‘Ah, dite alla giovine’, they gain nothing from having the two principals sit at the front of the stage and sing out towards the audience. There needs to be a little more connection felt, or at least tension between them over their respective desires and fears, and that’s hard to achieve without some good stage direction.

Aside from the use of brief nudity, the other two acts and the second scene of Act II then are otherwise unexceptional, but the staging does at least serve its function reasonably well. Even if the budget doesn’t always stretch to elaborate sets and designs, the Opéra at Liège under the direction of Mazzonis di Pralafera, seem to me at least to always manage to include a few original touches that allow them to strike a strong balance between traditional theatricality and some personal character. There are a few other minor touches here - Alfredo clutching Violetta’s bloodstained white nightgown during the overture, the guests at the society parties seated as if to watching the unfolding of the latest theatrical developments in society - which are interesting without straining the traditional narrative too much. The same principal would apply, it would seem, to the casting of singers who more than meet the demands of the work if not perhaps with any great distinction. As Alfredo, Xavier Cortes sings well - clear, strong and resonant, and Giovanni Meoni is a grave and dignified Germont Snr., but neither bring any great interpretation to the roles and they don’t look like they have been given a great deal of acting direction either.

Traviata

Demonstrating however, in line with the rest of the production, that they know exactly the right places to place the emphasis, the performance of the orchestra under Luciano Acocella is marvellous and Annick Massis stands out as an exceptional Violetta Valéry. Even during the otherwise dull staging of the Germont/Violetta duets in Act II, the tempo and balance is considered throughout to give the performers the opportunity to really enter into the emotions of this critical scene. If the staging doesn’t work in favour of the singers there, elsewhere it has all the necessary impact, particularly in those aforementioned key moments of Act I and III, and their fine delivery by Annick Massis. She perhaps doesn’t have the fragile delicacy of Violetta in Act I, hitching up her skirt, hopping on a table with a glass of champagne and kicking off her shoes for her ‘Sempre libera’, but it captures the nature of the extraordinary new sensations awakened within her and it’s sung with strength, passion and character. On the flipside of those emotions, her ‘Addio del passato’ is filled with all the longing and heartrending emotion that likewise underpins the strength of the third Act. It’s a superb performance.

If the Opéra Royal de Wallonie’s production then doesn’t always demonstrate great originality, it does nonetheless manage to find its own character within the limitations of the setting, but more significantly, it knows exactly where to place the emphasis for the maximum impact and it takes great care with the casting to ensure that those moments can be achieved. With Annick Massis as an impressive Violetta Valéry, particularly strong in the Act III conclusion, and with Luciano Acocella directing the orchestra through a terrific performance that draws all those considerable qualities out of Verdi’s great score, this production, broadcast live via the website of the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège, amounted to a very fine and occasionally impressive La Traviata.

TraviataGiuseppe Verdi – La Traviata

Oper Graz, 2011 | Tecwyn Evans, Peter Konwitchny, Marlis Petersen, Giuseppe Varano, James Rutherford, Kristina Antonie Fehrs, Fran Lubahn, Taylan Memioglu, Ivan Oreščanin, David McShane, Konstantin Sfiris | Arthaus

There’s a tendency now for some producers, when confronted with some of the best-known and popular works, to strip them right back to the bone. In some cases, it can certainly be justified by the amount of fat that certain operas have gained through lazy convention, just rolled-out and played in a traditional staging with little thought for the relevance of their subjects to a modern audience. The assumption is undoubtedly that the public just want to hear the famous familiar arias and sob into their hankies at the end, and who is going to risk denying the audience that in an opera like La Traviata? Verdi’s opera, the only one he wrote with a contemporary subject (although even that was eventually denied him by the censor), is however one that could certainly withstand and perhaps even benefit from a fresh perspective, as Willy Decker’s production for Salzburg (now currently at the Met in New York) demonstrated. This somewhat minimally staged 2011 Oper Graz production by Peter Konwitchny certainly puts a different emphasis on the score and the drama, but does perhaps cut it back a little too much.

The case for this production, apart from the smaller nature of the venue, is one assumes that the storyline of La Traviata is now so familiar that it doesn’t need all the period accoutrements and props that are surely only a distraction from the brilliance of an opera – Verdi’s finest work up until his final four masterpieces – that is surely capable of standing purely on the strength of the singing and the music alone. It undoubtedly is and, with a few reservations, this performance is as good as any you’ll hear – one that even allows you to hear the emotions expressed in a fresh and genuinely touching human way, particularly if you are tired of the grand mannerisms of divas showing off their range and routines in a stuffy, period social setting of barons and courtesans. La Traviata is a brilliant work on that level, expressing the strength and the weakness of human sentiments on the subject of love. Surely, that’s what really counts? Well, perhaps not when you have so many other interpretations to choose from and with many classic performances of a great work already available. Each version has its own strengths and weaknesses, so what is gained from this production much will depend on one’s personal taste for singers and for modern, minimalist stagings.

Personally, I find Marlis Petersen, singing the role for the first time, wonderfully refreshing in the role of Violetta Valéry. Her principal Act 1 aria ‘Ah fors è lui’ and cabaletta are sung beautifully, purely and without mannerisms, sifting through the conflicting emotions of a woman who believed she was incapable of finding true love suddenly confronted with thrilling sensations when least expected, but cautious about the dangers of headlong abandon into the pleasures of loving and being loved. Her Act 3 ‘Addio del passato’, where she confronts the flipside of those emotions, the loss of love and the approach of death, is just as effective and affecting. A curtain, a chair, a fine singer – does Verdi and Piave’s work need anything more than this to bring it to life? Well, yes, it does perhaps need a little more than that, and it doesn’t always get it in this production.

Traviata

Going against more common interpretation, Giuseppe Varano’s Alfredo Germont isn’t the cocky young man or the impetuous hothead as seen recently on Blu-ray recordings featuring Ramón Vargas, Rolando Villazón or Joseph Calleja. Here, he’s a bespectacled nerd, a bookworm in a duffel coat, a shy, inexperienced romantic dreamer who seeks inspiration in his books of poetry. His voice isn’t as strong as the aforementioned tenors either, but, by the same token, the performance consequently loses all the operatic mannerisms and finds a way to express more realistically the inner nature of his character. James Rutherford sings well as Germont-père, but here he’s characterised as rough and abrasive, with little sympathy or understanding for Violetta’s plight when he asks her to give up Alfredo, even wheeling in his schoolgirl-aged daughter in person, beating her and manhandling her in order to blackmail Violetta’s feelings.

Such interpretations are valid and viable if they can be made to work, but not if they undermine or contradict the strengths of the original musical and lyrical intent. One would think that ‘Pura siccome un angelo’ ought to be more poignant for the presence of the girl in question, but it’s not, and Violetta’s capitulation of ‘Ah dite alla giovine!’ consequently doesn’t feel justified here. There should be a sense of paternal care for his children certainly that may make Germont blind and even inconsiderate to the suffering of others, but that’s not entirely how the libretto or the music depict his character. In order to make it work that way, you would need to mess with the score and make some judicious cuts, and unfortunately, that’s where this production is on rather dubious ground.

Cuts in even the most famous operas are not uncommon – even in La Traviata – but this production is particularly ruthless in wielding the knife in order to make it fit to a design that differs from the original intention. In some cases, the cuts are justifiable in focussing the drama back on Violetta and Alfredo and in moving the story along. We lose the gypsy dance and the matador chorus from the start of Act 2 entirely, just so we can get back to Alfredo’s confrontation with Violetta after the break-up. Personally, while the music is marvellous, I’ve always felt that this was rather out of place in the opera and did indeed bring the dramatic flow to a standstill (although Willy Decker did indeed manage to put an interesting spin on this section to integrate it back into the work), so it’s absence here is understandable if nonetheless regrettable. Other cuts and trims however (Violetta’s Act 2 letter-writing, Germont’s ‘No, non udrai rimproveri’, the cutting of references to the baron and the duel, the excision of the doctor’s presence from the start of Act 3) feel arbitrary, or worse, are done with the intention of twisting the narrative design.

In some respects, this allows the opera to work towards its own ends without causing too much damage to the dramaturgy of the original. It’s a very lean version of La Traviata consequently and it fairly flies along, running to only one hour and fifty minutes, launching from act to act without time even for an interval. The minimal stage sets – curtains and a chair for the most part, but with strong warm lighting schemes to enhance the overheated nature of the opera – allow for such quick changes, but the dramatic context is just as important as a concept, and that’s unclear here. It’s fine to use curtains in a Brechtian manner to suggest life as a series of scenes in which we often assume the role of characters, but I don’t think this is any more truthful to the human content of the work. It just switches one set of dramatic conventions for another.

Traviata

Fitting in with the stripped-down nature of the production, there are no big gestures either from the orchestra under the musical direction of Tecwyn Evans. It’s nice to hear the detail of the score without it being smothered in punchy grand gestures and mannerisms, but it’s questionable whether this is true to the nature of Verdi’s dynamism and sweeping arrangements. Actually, it’s not questionable at all, since it often feels like a mechanical run-though, not giving sufficient sense of the passing of time or the context of the relationship between Alfredo and Violetta, and it does reduce the heightened emotions and impact of the drama. That’s clearly the intention of the music and artistic directors here and, while it may not be traditional, it does put a different and interesting perspective on the work that is worth considering, even if it doesn’t always work.

It’s perhaps only the final scene that has the necessary impact, with the requisite timing that leaves room for the emotions to sink in. Thanks to Petersen’s fine performance, it also just about passes the crucial tear-in-the-eye test. With all the cuts to the score and lack of dramatic setting, this 2011 Graz production is not recommended to anyone watching La Traviata for the first time, but it is not without its merits and it is certainly worthwhile for anyone who has despaired of ever hearing La Traviata approached with some originality, freshness and daring, even if it doesn’t entirely work and certainly doesn’t get to the emotional heart of the work in the way that Verdi intended.

On a BD25 disc, the 1080i image is not exceptional simply because there’s little detail to be seen on stage, and what is there is fairly washed out by the strong orange lighting, but the disc itself is technically sound. The audio mixes, in PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.0, are wonderful however for anyone who wants to hear the fine detail of the (subdued) orchestral performance and singing. Extras include a 20-minute making of that gets right behind the scenes of the rehearsals and the booklet includes a short interview and a synopsis by the director Peter Konwitchny, which give some idea of his intentions for the production.

TraviataGiuseppe Verdi - La Traviata

The Royal Opera - Covent Garden, 2010 | Antonio Pappano, Richard Eyre, Renée Fleming, Joseph Calleja, Thomas Hampson, Monika-Evelin Liiv, Sarah Pring, Haoyin Xue, Eddie Wade | Opus Arte

Renée Fleming has matured into one of the finest sopranos around at the moment, a true star with a sparkling personality and a velvet-toned voice that is capable of wringing the finest emotions out of works by Strauss and Tchaikovsky that from a lesser singer could sound rather cold and clinical. I wouldn’t have thought her voice would be so well suited to Violetta Valéry in La Traviata, and it does take some getting used to, but I think she at least brings a distinct quality to the role with an emotional heart that isn’t always necessarily there when a leading diva uses it primarily as a display for her vocal talents. It’s served well also by Antonio Pappano’s conducting of the Royal Opera House Orchestra in a traditional but effective production by Richard Eyre.

There’s only one way to really measure the true performance of La Traviata however, and that is by the qualities of the soprano. Renée Fleming does seem a little faltering in the first act, the warm enveloping richness of her tone perhaps not quite bringing out the clarity of the Italian diction. The production also seems a little disjointed in Act 1, setting up the great arias well (and is there any opera that has quite so many memorable, technically and dramatically impressive arias?), but not really sure what to do with the performers in between. Fleming’s ‘È strano …ah forsè’lui‘ however is excellent, the soprano most definitely singing it her own way, putting a different complexion and personal interpretation on the opera.

If Act I doesn’t flow as well as one might hope, Act II however is superb in every respect – singing, dramatic representation, the precision and timing of the orchestration all played to perfection in both scenes. Fleming’s duet with Hampson’s Germont Sr., ‘Ah! Dite alla giovine‘, is technically stunning, but at the same time full of heartfelt emotion. I’ve rarely seen it done so well and it’s capable of leaving you dead in your tracks. Much as I sometimes find Act III a little gruelling in this opera, here it also comes across with great emotional force, again primarily down to Fleming’s superb acting talent, but also to how well she blends with Joseph Calleja. Calleja is a tenor very much in the classic mould of a Pavarotti or Domingo, and as such is perfectly suited to a role such as Alfredo. There is some maturing to be done in his voice, and he certainly doesn’t have the personality or range of the greats, but his voice has a beautiful tone and blends well with Fleming here.

It’s hard then to find fault with the production or the performances, but there are so many versions of La Traviata out there that a new version really needs something special to entice you into reconsidering it anew (such as in the fascinating Willy Decker production with Anna Netrebko). This is a straightforward, traditional, period staging – it doesn’t add anything new, it doesn’t make the viewer reconsider the whole tone of the piece or allow them to plunge into its emotional heart – but it has Renée Fleming, and it’s worthwhile for that alone. Other than for Fleming however, one can’t help but feel that this would indeed be just another La Traviata.

The quality of the Blu-ray release is good, but not great. The lighting is rather soft, so it doesn’t have the clarity you might expect, but it does seem to capture a sense of the ambience of Covent Garden. The audio likewise doesn’t really have a full depth of tone. The violins dominate, but feel slightly detached from the rest of the orchestration in the 5.1 mix, only occasionally achieving the thunderous tone that is often demanded. The PCM stereo mix however is excellent and may be the better option. The extras on the disc consists of a worthwhile 21-minute interview of Fleming by Pappano, where the soprano acknowledges the personal challenges the role represents, and describes her technical approach.

TraviataGiuseppe Verdi - La Traviata

Teatro alla Scala, Milan | Liliana Cavani, Angela Gheorghiu, Ramon Vargas, Roberto Frontali, Natascha Petrinsky, Lorin Maazel | Arthaus Musik

There’s no question that this version of La Traviata for the Teatro alla Scala is a quality production on many levels and, available at a budget price, the Blu-ray is nevertheless of a very high standard, but I have a few minor reservations, mainly around the lack of any sense of adventure in the staging. It’s a safe production with a perfectly traditional staging, unimaginatively presented and choreographed, with little to distinguish it from countless other productions of the opera available.

It’s harder to be critical of the actual performance on any other level than that of personal taste and Angela Gheorghiu doesn’t sit well with me. There’s no doubting her technical ability, the sheer control or the strength of her voice, but personally, I find it a little mannered, and I would say the same about her acting. As a result, her Violetta never feels as fragile or as vulnerable as she ought to be - at least from what I would expect of the role. There’s no chemistry whatsoever either with the otherwise fine Ramon Vargas as Alfredo, making this production technically strong, but emotionally weak.

By way of comparison, I find the Willy Decker staging of the opera for the 2005 Salzburg Festspiele La Traviata much more interesting and innovative. A rather minimalist staging, there is however great originality in how it makes the story meaningful, vital and contemporary (whereas this version feels a little bit stuffy and practically like a museum piece by comparison), drawing out all the latent passion and violence out of what should indeed be a highly charged opera. While the question of who is the better singer is certainly debatable, it’s one of Anna Netrebko’s best performances and her acting seems better fitted to this particular role, blending perfectly and credibly with Rolando Villazón and a superb Thomas Hampson.

This version however is certainly a strong, all-round production, with fine performances and, particularly at the current price, it is an excellent introduction to opera on Blu-ray, as well as appealing to traditionalists and fans of Gheorghiu. There are however more exciting and daring versions around for anyone a little more adventurous.