[Met Performance] CID:298250
La Traviata {732} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/20/1989.

(Debut: Walter MacNeil

Metropolitan Opera House
October 20, 1989

Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave

Violetta................Edita Gruberova
Alfredo.................Walter MacNeil [Debut]
Germont.................Wolfgang Brendel
Flora...................Wendy White
Gastone.................Anthony Laciura
Baron Douphol...........Renato Capecchi
Marquis D'Obigny........James Courtney
Dr. Grenvil.............Federico DaviÓ
Annina..................Sondra Kelly
Giuseppe................John Hanriot
Gardener................Mitchell Sendrowitz
Dance...................Fernando Bujones
Dance...................Linda Gelinas
Dance...................Cynthia Harvey

Conductor...............Carlos Kleiber

Review of Martin Mayer in Opera Magazine (UK)

Given their fundamentally conservative views, which keep them within the frame of the work-as-written, Carlos Kleiber, Franco Zeffirelli and Edita Gruberova have carefully and thoroughly restudied Verdi's La traviata for the new production at the Metropolitan Opera. Words that are usually just part of the song are made a source of gesture, orchestral touches within the pattern of the Second Empire waltz rise briefly to prominence, ritards and accelerations make points that are in fact Verdi's points. Even so four-square a piece as 'Di Provenza' has been taken apart and put back together again.

This sometimes obtrusive attention to detail is by no means entirely successful, partly because the talents of the artists do not always lie in the direction in which they have been pushed and partly, I suspect, because the work itself (the late Virgil Thomson once wrote of its 'rough and massive grandeur') will not bear so large a weight of analysis. Though I was often moved by the performance on October 20 (sometimes by the sense of how hard all these people have worked), in the end I thought it could be argued that a sheen of intellectual theatricality had come between the opera and its audience. Still, it says something about our opinion leaders that this intensely serious effort has been brainlessly trashed, because it's Franco and costs too much and uses the stage machinery and makes the big parties so vulgar and exuberant.

Of course, the parties are vulgar and exuberant. And having the curtain rise on Violetta's death bed in the Act 1 prelude does contribute to a sense of something sinister behind the oom-pah-pah of the tune that breaks into the [beginning] melos. No harm is done to the work by presenting it as a flashback from the girl's dying moments. Shifting the first act back and forth between the ballroom and that bedroom and having Alfredo break into the bedroom to make his declaration is at least as sensible as leaving them alone in the ballroom while everyone else goes to dinner. Similarly the dramatic situation, not Zeffirelli's love of gimmickry, is served by presenting the scene at Flora's as a gambling room that opens into the grand salon, closes again and opens again. (Though we do lose-and this should be corrected-the point that Alfredo has just won from the Baron the money he flings at Violetta.) Someone objected to Alfredo kneeling remorsefully before Violetta as the orchestra crashed that act to a close, but by the end of that ensemble he is surely damned sorry for what he did.

The edition used cuts Germont's cabaletta at the end of Act 2 and one stanza of `Addio, del passato'. It runs together Act 2 and Act 3 into one act (I am told this is what Verdi wanted: weiss nix). On the [first] night I gather this was done in immediate "segue" by dropping a curtain behind Germont during `Di Provenza'. By the second performance wiser heads had prevailed, and we had about 90 seconds' intermission. On the [first] night, also, the curtain was up on the dying Violetta during the fourth-act as well as the first-act prelude; on October 20 the curtain remained in place between the audience and the stage. Instead of hearing the masqueraders of the carnival through a window, Violetta hallucinates them atop the stairs at Flora's through black gauze at the back of her room. The summer house of Act 2 is airy, Crystal Palace, very Victorian, and just right.

Neil Shicoff was indisposed, and Alfredo was Walter MacNeil (Cornell's son) in his Met debut. He was scared stiff in the first act, and in general a little light of voice for this house, but he moved well, looked well, conveyed both the charm and the arrogance of this not-very-attractive puppy, and where he needed a little force, at Flora's, he found it. Germont was Wolfgang Brendel, milking the seven beautiful notes in his voice and faking the rest, singing without style or comprehension and
twice excruciatingly off pitch.

The show, of course, belongs to the lady with the camellias. Edita Gruberova is in the tradition of coloratura Violettas for whom `Ah, fors' e lui' holds no terrors. And the voice has grown mightily in the last few years. She trills without thinking about it, can sing very softly and still project into the house, and soars over ensemble and orchestra in the great third-act finale (which absolutely gripped the house; rarely have I felt such intensity from an audience). She is deeply musical, and she has worked terribly hard at acting the role, finding something to do physically (with Zeffirelli's help, I'm sure) in association with the meaning of every line of text. This left her too busy in the first act, where Violetta's moods change vigorously enough in the music and do not need further illustration, but gave additional pathos and warmth to much of the rest. She has not quite internalized a lot of it: there are moments when one feels one is watching an admirable student rather than Violetta. She is already one of the most memorable exponents of this role, and she will be better still.

Especially, of course, if she continues to work with Kleiber. He uniquely combines a fanatical feeling for control (he conducts the singers when the orchestra is silent) with a startlingly communicative, often multiply divided beat. Though he seems to enjoy the work of the singers much less than Levine does, he is kinder to them: his accompaniment in "Traviata" was always discreet and supportive. I think he has a tendency to build up from phrases rather than down from architectonics, and every once in a while the sweep of meaning cannot be created that way: the great duet between Violetta and Germont was, I felt, less affecting than usual because there were too many bits and pieces. But the man is a very great conductor; watching him is an education and a privilege.

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