Verdi’s La Traviata Directed by Benoît Jacquot
Performed by Diana Damrau, Francesco Demuro, Ludovic Tézier, Anna Pennisi, Cornelia Oncioiu and the Paris Opera; directed by Philippe Jordan.
ALBUM TITLE: La Traviata
WORKS: La Traviata
PERFORMER: Diana Damrau, Francesco Demuro, Ludovic Tézier, Anna Pennisi, Cornelia Oncioiu; Paris Opera/Philippe Jordan; dir. Benoît Jacquot (Paris, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 2564616650; Blu-ray: 2564616647
Staged at the Opéra Bastille, this production by film director Benoît Jacquot sticks to the opera’s period (1853), give or take ten years or so. The opening image is Manet’s Olympia, a picture focusing on a demi-mondaine lying naked on her bed which shocked some of those who attended the 1865 Paris Salon. Diana Damrau’s Violetta doesn’t appear naked in Jacquot’s production, but Olympia’s unnamed companion in the painting – a black female servant – reappears as Annina, dressed exactly like Manet’s second female portrait. Bizarrely, the singer – Cornelia Oncioiu – has to black up to achieve visual similarity. Were there no black singers able to undertake the role in Paris?
Despite the period setting, many of Jacquot’s gestures are no more than modern clichés. The chorus appears to consist entirely of men – though it contains female singers who have simply cross-dressed; all wear identical black top hats and frock coats in a bludgeoning attack on the double standards of the bourgeois male of Verdi’s time.
At Flora’s party, the gypsy girls in the divertissement are inevitably all male dancers in drag (their music sung by the chorus), the matadors all female (ditto). If only Jacquot were interested in obtaining real acting performances from his principals, but not for one second do you believe here that this Violetta is in anything but the most perfect health.
Vocally, Damrau can run rings around the notes, but in this role that’s not enough. Francesco Demuro makes a likable if uninteresting Alfredo, and there’s a hint of a wobble in his tone. Best of the principals is Ludovic Tézier’s Giorgio Germont, a distinguished piece of singing and thoughtfully acted; he deserves to be in a better show. Philippe Jordan conducts a performance that is good solid routine. George Hall