This was the last of the live broadcasts from the Met for the 2011/12 season. And a spectacular and wonderful performance it was too. Though La Traviata is one of the best known and most performed of all operas, this production was new to me. It was originally produced in 2005 for the Salzburg Festival by Willi Decker. This was its first live broadcast from the Met. I found the production and performances and the staging enthralling and added something new to a tried and tested opera. The staging is very sparse and mostly abstract. What stood out though was a giant clock which played a key role in the development of the opera. At the beginning during the ouverture, Violetta appears staring at the clock, beside which stands an old man, who turns out to be her doctor, but at first seemed to me to represent Father Time himself. Violetta is clearly ill and suffering. I found this opening very impressive and set the tone for a performance which highlighted the darker side of the opera.
The other noticeable feature of the production was the costumes for most of the cast. In particular the party goers at the two balls. In both cases they were all pretty much identically dressed in male costumes in black. Including the soprano and mezzo soprano characters. In fact in the whole opera only Violetta appeared in what one would term feminine attire – usually a short and brightly coloured dress. This repeated image of maleness and blackness effectively played up both the fragility of Violetta and the power of men in the opera. For this was a production which brought out just how brutal and unforgiving life can be for women, then and now.
The production also benefitted from a very good cast. Matthew Polenzani was an engaging and somewhat naive Alfredo, while Dmitri Hvoroskovski put in a powerful performance as the elder Germont. La Traviata of course really relies on the Violetta – it is her story after all. Here we had Natalie Dessay in the role. She has always been one of my favourite opera singers. She has a great voice and can also act, which she does with great verve and passion. On the this occasion she was clearly suffering from some cold or other slight illness. During her interview after act 1, she was somewhat distraught at having missed a couple of high Cs. Not that I noticed any of this, nor did anyone in the Dundee audience at least. But she was clearly unhappy. However, bearing in mind that Violetta is seriously ill throughout the opera and dies at the end, then Natalie Dessay’s performance was all the more realistic. Not doubt the purists will have noticed something amiss in her voice, but the audience at the Met gave her a standing ovation and here in Dundee she engendered much clapping from our audience – something almost unheard of.
All in all a wonderfully exciting and enjoyable performance which brought home just how moving La Traviata can be. I have already booked my tickets for next season’s performances. Can’t wait.