Verdi: La traviata
Before you watch this production it is well worth looking at the bonus extras, in which the director Peter Konwitschny, one of the most controversial figures on the operatic scene for a long time, explains what his view of this ‘opera of operas’ is: this is the first time he has produced it, as it is the first time Marlis Petersen has sung Violetta.
Konwitschny is of the school that regards all theatre as social critique, so the point of La traviata – updated in this production to now – is to examine our attitudes to prostitution, most notably how little they have changed. Konwitschny sees Violetta as the only real person in the drama, Alfredo being just a guy she needs to love – in fact a duffle-coated nerd; while his father, the ghastly Germont, is merely a piece of vicious social machinery.
Konwitschny is radical enough to introduce a character – silent, of course – whom Verdi and his librettist left out. That is Germont’s daughter, who can only get married if her brother abandons Violetta. She seems to be in her early teens, and Germont knocks her about, so it is left to Violetta to protect her. Shortly after, Violetta gets out a revolver and almost shoots herself, then Germont, but doesn’t do either.
Now to the musical performance: it is heavily cut, with the second verse of arias omitted, and also some very poignant music and, less seriously, the first part of Flora’s party. Marlis Petersen is wonderful, and I think would be in a more conventional production. She has a phenomenal vocal range, and she acts electrifyingly. The others aren’t given much of a chance, but poor Alfredo, Giuseppe Varano, makes what he can of a miserable part, some of it sung from the middle of the stalls; as also is the Germont of James Rutherford, looking as if he’s strayed from The Godfather. The orchestral playing is intense and refined; listen even if you don’t look. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are excellent.