La Traviata's Sleepy Spring Revival; Martha Graham

New cast of Traviata, photo @ Ken Howard

When Michael Mayer's new La Traviata production starring Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Quinn Kelsey premiered last December it was quite the hot ticket. Performances were sold out, and there were fierce online debates about the merits and demerits of Mayer's rather traditional production compared to the previous Willy Decker production.

What a difference a few months make. The spring revival with a brand new cast premiered tonight and while it was has fine voices there were many empty seats in the house and each act had more attrition. And truth be told, it was a rather sleepy performance that never took flight.

Anita Hartig, photo @ Ken Howard
Romanian soprano Anita Hartig took over the title role and she is  a more traditional Violetta than Diana Damrau. She looks more like a Violetta -- she has the dark hair and high cheekbones. She sounds more like a Violetta -- she has a soft-grained, melancholy lyric soprano that has a fast vibrato and a nice bloom on top. Close your eyes and she sounds a lot like Ileana Cotrubas. On paper she should have been amazing.

In the house however she was just average. The voice is extremely lovely and she looks even lovelier, but under pressure her voice tends to fly off-pitch -- "Sempre libera" in addition to having some very approximate coloratura was distressingly sharp. The other issue is Hartig is one of those singers who has an infuriating tendency to constantly sing behind the beat and thus many of the big moments went for nothing. The conductor Nicola Luisotti was very accommodating but it seemed as if no matter how much he slowed the orchestra she still sang behind the beat. While it was occasionally nice to bathe in the loveliness of her voice Violetta is a woman running out of time. The best Violettas convey a sense of urgency and forward impetus in their singing. Hartig was like Violetta on xanax. "Amami Alfredo" was so slow and drawn out that it lost all impact. It didn't help that for all of her physical beauty Hartig's acting does not project across the footlights.

Costello and Hartig, photo @ Ken Howard
Stephen Costello is an experienced Alfredo and he too was very different from Juan Diego Flórez. Flórez is an extroverted performer who emphasized the character's passion. Costello's Alfredo is a shy, awkward young man, and was a clear outsider in Violetta's demimondaine social circle. He looked mortified when asked to start the drinking song. Costello was in decent voice all night. There a slightly wiry high C at the end of "O mio rimorso" but that was it. His voice however is very small-scaled, with a rather generic timbre. Costello like Hartig has trouble projecting much expression beyond the footlights, and there wasn't much chemistry between the two lovers. Lack of rehearsal time?

Hartig and Rucinski, photo @ Ken Howard
Polish baritone Artur Rucinski gave the best overall performance of the evening despite having a voice of rather modest means. Rucinski did not have the big, thundering voice of Quinn Kelsey, and he was also not as physically unimposing as Kelsey. However Kelsey's interpretation of Giorgio Germont was very brutish and cold, while Rucinski brought more humanity to the role. He is one of the few Germonts that manages to make "Pura siccome un angelo" sound sincere and not manipulative and priggish. Alas, there's only one more chance to catch Rucinski as Placido Domingo takes over the role for the final five performances.

In the supporting performances Kevin Short again stood out in the brief role of Dr. Grenvil.

Luisotti led a rather routine performance in the pit. He followed Hartig's lead and the Met orchestra sounded like they'd popped a xanax pill as well. Some cuts that had been opened in the premiere run have returned -- "Addio del passato" was shorn of its second verse, the final dialogue after Violetta expires is also gone. And of course all the "standard" cuts are still there -- the second verses of the cabalettas, the big cut in "Parigi o cara." I'll never get why an opera that has about two hours and change of music is almost never performed uncut in live performance. Last month I saw a Die Walkure where five hours flew by. Tonight three hours seemed so long.

Mayer's production is what it is -- despite some silliness (the mute daughter appearing in some scenes with Papa Germont, the ever-present bed, the horrifically bad Act Three choreography by Lorin Latarro) it's a safe, traditional production that is suitable for an opera that no doubt will be revived many times.

Herodiade, one of the works I reviewed for Bachtrack, photo @ Andrea Mohin

In other news, I went to opening night of the Martha Graham Dance Company's two-week residency at the Joyce and reviewed it for bachtrack. Sometimes when I say "Ivy Lin, press tickets" I still expect people to laugh in my face.


  1. Nice to have these detailed reviews. I trust them more than anything I read in the NYT. Also, without being unkind, they hold all to high standards - while it seems the Times blesses some and hardly acknowledges others.


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