La Traviata

Diana Damrau (Violetta), Placido Domingo (Giorgio Germont) & Charles Castronovo (Alfredo Germont) (Foto © Wilfried Hösl)

La Traviata, opera of Giuseppe Verdi on a  libretto of Francesco Maria Piave. First performance at the  Teatro La Fenice in Venice on 6 march 1853. Performances by the Bayerische Staatsoper in the Nationaltheater in Munich on 27 and 29 june 2017

Violetta Valéry: Diana Damrau
Flora Bervoix: Rachael Wilson
Annina: Alyona Abramowa
Alfredo Germont: Charles Castronovo
Giorgio Germont: Placido Domingo

Bayerisches Staatsorchester
Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper

Conductor: Andrea Battistoni
Staging: Günter Krämer


Two completely sold out performances of La Traviata at Munich States Opera Festival in June 2017, people queuing on the steps, and desperately holding sheets „Ticket wanted“: a sign that Placido Domingo was back after an absence from the house for more than 15 years.

Meanwhile, the now 76 years old has switched from the tenor to the baritone repertoire, and thus casted as Giorgio Germont. As Violetta, Sonya Yoncheva was scheduled, but fell ill a few days before and got replaced by Munich’s darling Diana Damrau.

In neither of the performances Damrau did convince me, though. Singing piano, her voice was well-balanced, the high notes sounded clear, but with increasing volume, it sometimes started to become shrill, sharp and exaggerated. Also actingwise, she was a hyperactive Violetta, who occasionally reminded me rather of a hysterical housewife than of a delicate courtesan. However, she observably tried her best to portray the character. Over wide passages it was quite credible; she acted and sang her soul out. In the final scene, while waiting for Alfredo’s return, she was really moving in her painful desperation. Nevertheless, I would have preferred a more fragile, vulnerable Violetta with a softer voice and appearance.

As her partner, tenor Charles Castronovo, gave two solid (yet not outstanding) overall performances. In the first, he had some troubles to find his independent place within the cast, appeared pale and unexciting. His voice has a baritonal touch, and sounded somehow covered, but in important moments he was able to open it, and let a golden stream out of his throat. His “De’ miei bollenti spiriti” was very well sung on both days.

However, it was difficult for all other singers, anyway, to stand their ground on stage beside Plácido Domingo. The Spanish powerhouse with more than 50 years of experience has a unique stage presence, his charisma can hardly be beaten.

His Giorgio Germont was not an evil, cold-hearted  man, but rather a solicitous father driven by sorrow for his children. His voice still has its tenoral timbre, which is not a disadvantage in this role. The middle range is powerful with an awesome spectrum of colours and shades. Aside from a few moments, in which he needed an extra breath more than in old days, his singing was not less impressive than it was 20, 30 years ago. Ovations for several minutes after his duet with Violetta, “Pura siccome un angelo”, and especially after his “Di Provenza il mar, il suol” proved that he “still has it”. The “old guy in a less important role” was the best on stage.

For my taste, the second best of both evenings was in the pit: the young Italian conductor Andrea Battistoni. For age 30, his conducting sounded already very mature. The soft passages were almost transcendentally tender, whereas he made explode the orchestra where appropriate. He conducted (jumping like a rubber ball) with verve and a deep understanding for the score and for emotions. Despite the one or the other minor flaw, I think he is a conducting talent of whom we may expect more in future.

Kudos also to the singers in minor roles: Rachael Wilson (Flora), Alyona Abramowa (Annina), Galeano Salas (Gaston, Vicomte), and Kristof Klorek (Doctor Grenvil).

No kudos, though, to Günter Krämer for his boring staging (Stage design: Andreas Reinhardt). It was “neither fish nor fowl”, not total trash, but also not traditional. A black background with bright red doors in the first act, a silver wall, looking like a neglected storehouse and senseless curtains reducing the audiences’ view for the next act were the sad surrounding for this romantic opera. Sad to look at, but also an offense for the singers who had to sing in those high, wide, and empty rooms with poor acoustics. Costumes (by Carlo Diappi), vaguely reminding of the 1920ies, the chorus forced to jump around with persiflage-like movements, the chorus of matadors condemned to do a sort of “synchronic ski gymnastics” (Why?!) did not do any justice to Verdi’s work.

More than 30 (1st evening) resp. 20 minutes (2nd evening) of ovations for the singers showed the audience’s enthusiasm. What an unclouded success it could have been with appropriate staging!

There are two more performances this season on  25 en 28/7/2017.

Gabi Eder (Published on 4/7/2017)