LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: La Traviata
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming, Joseph Calleja, Thomas Hampson; Royal Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Antonio Pappano; dir. Richard Eyre (Royal Opera House, London 1994)
CATALOGUE NO: Opus Arte DVD: OA 1040D (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)
Sir Richard Eyre’s Royal Opera production of Verdi’s classic opened in 1994 and is still going strong. Seventeen years ago it turned Angela Gheorghiu into an overnight star; countless divas later, when this version was filmed over two performances in June 2009, Violetta was sung by Renée Fleming.
At the age of 50 she still looks very good in the role of the doomed courtesan, even with the unflinching visual examination provided in the Blu-ray version. Fleming sounds good, too, singing with consistent skill, even if it’s the surface of the character she presents rather than an in-depth view. Also bringing a sense of applied dramatics is Thomas Hampson’s super-stern Germont père, vocally big and bold but less of a three-dimensional human being than a sequence of statuesque attitudes. There’s a sincerity to Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja’s portrayal of Alfredo which gives it more spontaneity than his American colleagues supply; he also sings with more overall imagination and grace.
Stronger than the vocals is the conducting of Antonio Pappano, which possesses a natural stylishness and fluency; in some worthwhile bonus material he discusses the title role with Fleming. Interesting though her answers are, they point up a discrepancy between her genuine understanding of its needs and her realisation, which seems superficial.
Yet that’s a fault inherent throughout the whole production, whose safely traditional visual values, as presented in Bob Crowley’s realistic yet strangely forgettable designs, never reveal the measure of genuine tragedy latent within either the piece or its central character. George Hall