Verdi: La Traviata

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COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: La Traviata
PERFORMER: Patrizia Ciofi, Roberto Saccà, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Eufemia Tufano, Elisabetta Martorana, Salvatore Cordella et al ; Orchestra & Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice/Lorin Maazel; dir. Robert Carsen (Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 2004)
CATALOGUE NO: Arthaus 107 227 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)

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In 2004, Venice’s La Fenice reopened following the disastrous fire of 1996. Robert Carsen’s production of Verdi’s La traviata, which was premiered in this opera house, was performed, with an unusual choice of edition. After the failure of the first night in 1853, Verdi revised the score, though the result is not a major rewrite. Most of the changes are cosmetic, affecting the vocal lines in the second and third acts, the Violetta/Germont duet in particular. Fascinating to hear (once) in its original form, La traviata was improved by the composer.

Though, on this occasion, not necessarily by the director or his designer Patrick Kinmonth. Carsen makes much in his liner note of Verdi’s desire, thwarted for many years, to have the opera presented in contemporary dress, and his staging brings the visuals forward to our time. Fair enough. But they’re undistinguished. The second scene – Alfredo and Violetta’s love-nest outside Paris – is presented in a forest, its floor covered in dollar bills (Violetta is a prostitute – geddit?). Violetta discovers Flora’s party invitation by accident on the ground. It won’t do, I’m afraid. It’s also poorly lit for the screen.

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The central casting is mixed. Soprano Patrizia Ciofi is a serious artist who manoeuvres her voice around the difficulties of the title role and works hard to achieve Carsen’s concept, but her tone is on the small side and she’s ultimately unsympathetic. Tenor Roberto Saccà’s Alfredo is crudely sung. Ultimately it’s baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s magnificent Giorgio Germont who steals the show, while there’s solid conducting from Lorin Maazel. George Hall