La traviata is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, which premiered on March 6, 1853 in the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. The libretto by Francesco Maria Piave is based on the novel La dame aux camélias (1848) by Alexandre Dumas (son). Attended performance: Teatro alla Scala, 12 March 2019.
Flora: Chiara Isotton
Annina: Caterina Piva
Alfredo Germont: Francesco Meli
Giorgio Germont: Plácido Domingo
Gastone: Riccardo Della Sciucca
Barone Douphol: Costantino Finucci
Marchese d’Obigny: Antonio Di Matteo
Dr. Grenvil: Alessandro Spin
Giuseppe: Sergei Ababkin
Domestico / Commissioner: Jorge Martínez
“Wow!” – This word was often heard on 12 March 2019 at La Scala. Non-residents of Milan who had not seen that production before were stunned, and happy, as long as they were not fans of modern trash productions. But the vast majority – including me – absolutely loved the beautiful staging, the costumes and the sets, everything your run-of-the-mill operagoer could ask for in a production of La Traviata. No perverted costumes, no weird “interpretations”, no car wrecks or naked people on stage – just delightfully traditional, just “wow”!
Nothing but Blue skies
This same “wow” is also a valid response to the singers that evening. Sonya Yoncheva, who had been scheduled to sing Violetta, was forced to cancel due to pregnancy complications, so Angel Blue, a young soprano from America, stepped in. As a winner of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia in 2009, she is already enjoying a successful international career and has sung at many important opera houses. La Scala’s audience can be cruel, especially the “loggionisti” (frequent operagoers occupying the galleries), often referred to as the “hooligans” of opera. With their loud booing and whistling they can destroy a singer’s career in seconds. Understandingly, Angel Blue was initially nervous, which was reflected by her slightly cautious singing – but she adapted quickly as the first act unfolded and ended up giving a splendid performance. Her high notes were not only totally secure and well-supported, but also very strong. She easily filled the house. Her middle range has a “smoky” timbre and is equally impressive. To complete the positive impression, she displayed incredible stage presence, and her acting was moving. She got a well-deserved extra applause for her “Addio del passato” – and loud cheers and “Brava” shouts at the very end, which she accepted with tears in her eyes. Wow, Angel, just wow!
Marco Armiliato made his first appearance as a conductor at La Scala. He conducted with liveliness and esprit, almost dancing in the pit, and sang along with all the singers. At times the orchestra seemed a little bit too loud, but this could be related to La Scala’s acoustics. At the beginning of act 3 Armiliato had a messy moment, in which the orchestra, the singers and he seemed to be in different worlds, but he immediately found his way back into the score, and in the end it was not even disturbing, given his otherwise good performance.
A flawless Alfredo
As an Italian, tenor Francesco Meli had a “home game” as Alfredo. His voice has a strong, thrilling ringing tone, is also beautiful in piano passages, and he has no trouble with the higher notes. Even though I have heard him pushing a bit too much in the past in other roles, he was technically almost flawless as Alfredo. On this particular evening, there was nothing really to complain about, even though I always miss that certain undefinable, electrifying something in his performances.
“Electrifying” – this keyword leads us to the next protagonist, Father Germont. Almost 50 years after his debut at La Scala, Plácido Domingo has returned again, as he has done so many times. And he proved his uniqueness once again. He somehow seems to successfully defy age. Now 78, his voice sounds much younger, simultaneously strong, colourful and impressive. His technical skills and voice control are simply fascinating, and his stage presence and charisma are unsurpassed. He brought so much life, passion, sadness and suffering to the role of Giorgio Germont that it was no surprise that he got the longest and loudest scene applause for his “Di Provenza il mar, il suol”. Once again, there is little more to say than “Just wow!”
Caterina Piva (Annina) and Chiara Isotton (Flora) were fine, but they had a hard job matching the overwhelming presence of Violetta and Giorgio Germont.
Not especially exciting were the singers of the minor roles: Riccardo Della Sciucca (Gastone), Costantino Finucci (Barone Douphol), Antonio Di Matteo (Marchese d’Obigny), Alessandro Spina (Dr. Grenvil), and Sergei Ababkin (Giuseppe).
La Scala’s chorus is extraordinary, though, in a class of its own. It gave a marvellous evening an extra “wow” factor with three first-class singers in the main roles.
Together with the adorable staging and costumes, the overall impression of that evening is simply … “WOW!”
Gabi Eder (published on 13 March 2019)