[Met Performance] CID:264190
La Traviata {668} Metropolitan Opera House: 04/14/1981.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
April 14, 1981


LA TRAVIATA {668}
Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave

Violetta................Catherine Malfitano
Alfredo.................Giuliano Ciannella
Germont.................Sherrill Milnes
Flora...................Nedda Casei
Gastone.................Dana Talley
Baron Douphol...........John Darrenkamp
Marquis D'Obigny........Julien Robbins
Dr. Grenvil.............William Fleck
Annina..................Batyah Godfrey Ben-David
Giuseppe................Lou Marcella
Gardener................Paul De Paola
Dance...................Antoinette Peloso
Dance...................Joey Reginald

Conductor...............James Levine

Review of Alan Rich in New York Magazine

The lyric line that floods the opera house midway through the second act of Verdi's "La Traviata" - "Ah, dite alla giovane," Violetta's capitulation to the crass demands of the elder Germont - is one of those moments when the capable singer of notes and the supreme interpreter of opera can most easily be told apart. The line itself is utterly simple: a rising sequence on a repeated note figure, once reprised and then expanding to a climactic point and a descent; but it is one of those fragile, deceptive lines - like Susanna's cadence figure in the Act III sextet of Figaro - that hold in them a universe of meaning beyond the context of the particular plot. Thinking about Verdi's melody - even writing about it in a noisy office, as I am now doing - my eyes invariably get that hot feeling that comes just before tears. And the artist who can draw tears at that moment in her performance is the Violetta I can cherish.

And so I cherish Catherine Malfitano for the Violetta she sang during the last week of the Metropolitan Opera's injured, limping season. Miss Malfitano is a mere 32, but she has been among us for quite a while, first at the City Opera and now at the Met. I also remember a wonderful Susanna by her at Santa Fe in the summer of 1973. She has survived being pushed too quickly; there was a time when her father, a violinist in the Met orchestra, was using her in some cutesy concert routines. None of that matters. At this writing what matters to me is her Violetta, so strong, so beautifully paced, so utterly convincing at every turn, the work of a singer aware of exactly the way Verdi put words and music together in this perfect music drama.

The Violetta in this new production had been created by Ileana Cotrubas. I heard her with Placido Domingo on the broadcast and they both sang wonderfully, ardently, dramatically. But Malfitano was even more - not only because I could see in person the beautiful inventions of her stage work, but also because for those three hours she didn't just sing Violetta. She was Violetta.

She was, however, a Violetta quite alone. Domingo was gone and some kind of lump named Giuliano Ciannella was left in his place, a sour-voiced, self-serving creature such as one doesn't expect to encounter even in the Italian provinces nowadays. There wasn't much help from Sherrill Milnes either; he flatted more notes that one time out than I usually hear him do in a season.

This was, by the way, a "Traviata" redesigned musically as well as visually. James Levine's conducting was rather hectic at times; the big ensembles in the third scene seemed especially brutal. But it was good to hear his enlightened scholarship at work: the offstage band in the first and last act was nicely used, and the cabalettas for Gernont père and fils restored - at least one of the two stanzas in each. Malfitano, furthermore, sang both stanzas of the "Ah fors'è lui" and "Addio del passato," as Cotrubas had not, and the effect was to intensify the poignance, of the role and greatly enhance the moving qualities that Malfitano had brought to it over all.

About the new production - the sooner forgotten the better, although you can acquire the consistency by which the two "Traviata"s since the new house opened in 1966 have been the two ugliest numbers in the repertory. Tanya Moiseiwitsch, the designer seems to have turned her awful "Rigoletto" inside out. Much of the "Traviata" looks as if it is happening inside a barrel instead of around it. The colors are drab and no prodigies of lighting from Gil Wechsler can alter the effect of vast spaces of sheer drear - any more than Colin Graham's staging can do anything to make the spaces look as if intelligent, loving people could possibly live in them.



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