Verdi: La traviata

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WORKS: La traviata
PERFORMER: Stefania Bonfadelli, Scott Piper, Renato Bruson; Arturo Toscanini Foundation Chorus & Orchestra/Plácido Domingo; dir. Franco Zeffirelli (Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, Busseto, 2002)
The stage at the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi in Busseto may be no larger than a pocket handkerchief, but with Franco Zeffirelli in charge you can be sure he’ll embroider it from hem to hem. Naturally the detail is historically accurate with costumes from the 1840s that seem to have strolled straight out of a period print. But a working fountain in the middle of Violetta and Alfredo’s conservatory in their Act II country retreat, clowns at Flora’s party as well as the prescribed gypsies and matadors and the Parisian carnival on stage as Violetta is dying in Act III? This is opera as ‘lifestyle’ not music drama.


Yet when she’s alone at the end of Act I daring to think of love with Alfredo rather than a life of Parisian pleasure, Stefania Bonfadelli’s Violetta banishes the excesses of her interior decorator. She so much looks the part in age and pallid beauty. And while no one should pretend that Bonfadelli or her Alfredo, Scott Piper, are vocally perfect, their youth and enthusiasm are a tonic. Equally invigorating is Renato Bruson’s Germont, in the 40th year of his career as he tells us in the vapid documentary that accompanies this recording. And every one of those four decades counts during his great Act II duet with Violetta, as a stiff-backed and priggish father melts into her devoted disciple.


In the pit is that modern music master of all trades, Plácido Domingo. His is a careful reading of the score, but as yet it lacks a feel for that unique sprung rhythm that’s inside Verdi’s music. But better that than Franco Zefferelli’s well-upholstered stage pictures where not a 19th-century spring is out of place. Christopher Cook