La traviata – Royal Opera House

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Watching La traviata is always an emotional experience for me, it’s like meeting an old friend, who I haven’t seen in years.

Traditional production! VERY traditional, and very beautiful: the Royal Opera House confirms its status of one of the best theaters in the world, for productions (according to my humble opinion). The direction also very traditional, so a little boring, but not having to be surprised every 5 minutes, for once, was relaxing. Sumptuous costumes.
The orchestra, as usual, was spectacular. The director, Dan Ettinger, an Israeli 40 yo with platinum blonde hair (!), very competent. He gave the correct emphasis to the bass instruments in the overture, where the violins too often take charge. Remarkable direction in some scenes, such as the third act concertato, which turned out to be the best moment of the evening; unusual tempi in the chorus, which came out more powerful and incisive.

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The first act, where Violetta is dressed in white, features a somewhat breathless Diana Damrau. I remembered her wonderful in Rigoletto, in Dresden, 2008, and here I must say I didn’t like her as much. I found out later the reason: she had 2 children in the meantime; probably this took a toll and she’s just tired. The voice is always wonderful, very agile, with a ringing beautiful timbre, but she is strained. She breathes too much, she breathes all the time, she breathes in the wrong places, and the legato suffers from it, especially in the coloratura of the first act. In my humble opinion she should start studying to re-gain technical confidence. Enters Alfredo, the Italian Francesco Demuro, and I am pleasantly surprised, I didn’t think he was this good! The voice is not huge, but the timbre is great, and, more importantly, his technique is superb. Not very charismatic, our Demuro, but he cuts a nice figure in his tux, and he moves around well. The direction showed some inspired ideas when, during the orchestral introduction to the toast, Alfredo thinks about what to say, talks about it with his friends, while, usually, he just plants himself in the middle of the stage, with a huge smile and a glass in his hands, and you can read in his eyes “now it’s my big moment!!”, while he waits for the orchestra to finish. The toast was as boisterous as needed. And then, a wonderful Croce e delizia! The same breathing as Kraus!

(Yes, I know, I’m crazy, I know by heart where Alfredo Kraus breathed in Croce delizia, listen to the video. This Demuro guy has studied it and learned it and he did it just the same. So there.)
The comes Sempre libera degg’io, where Damrau really gave everything. She did all the notes, all in tune, including the final super-high note, but she left me with a feeling of stress and uncertainty, due, as I was saying, to her difficult breathing.
But, to be honest, these are details. She’s really good, and I don’t know who in the world could do Violetta better than her, in this moment (suggestions welcome).

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She’s also a great actress: the psychological characterization of Violetta is full, in 3D. This comes out, obviously, in the second act, where she really gave us her best interpretation in the duet with Germont senior, sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky, one of my favorite singers! Hvoro has an incredible voice, smooth, enveloping, clearly too sensuous for a grumpy old man like Giorgio Germont. He’s a star, he got a big applause as soon as he walked in the stage (like Callas or something). His interpretation of Germont was very stereotyped in his ways and his gestures, but we can accept that, given how traditional the direction was. Unfortunately his two arias are NOT the best Verdi has written (to say the least), but in Di Provenza il mare e il suol he really gave everything.
The duet Violetta-Germont was fantastic, with an overwhelming crescendo towards Amami Alfredo. Yes, I shed a tear.

Party at Flora’s: amazing! They even did the two dancing scenes well, while they are usually deadly boring. The concertato was the most enjoyable moment of the evening: extremely precise and well thought out, great work of the chorus!
The last act was the peak of Damrau’s musicality. A heartrending Addio del passato, with a wonderful legato (unlike other moments, as I was saying), and an emotional interpretation. Parigi o cara sweet and moving, a lot of pathos.
Honorable mention to the Korean bass Jihoon Kim, singing the doctor. Usually the doctor is sung by some random nobody, but this guy has a huge enormous voice that you can hear from the street! He studied in Milan, he’s very young, I hope he will have a great career!

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