Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fenice | La Traviata

Every once in a while, if you go to enough opera, the characters onstage come to life, the singers become real people caught in terrible twists of fate.

Violetta's plight is certainly one of the most wrenching in all opera. Like other great operatic heroines she is torn between love and duty (one of Verdi's favorite dilemmas). She accepts duty, self-sacrifice, for the sake of a young girl she has never met and will never meet. She knows she will die as a result of this decision, and she doesn't know when. When she does die, her bereft Alfredo, twice robbed of her, and his complicit father, are overwhelmed with their own private griefs.

But when I cried it was not because the music was sad. I cried at moments that were incredibly beautiful. The Brindisi certainly is not sad, nor "Un di felice." Ardent, impassioned, ecstatic even; not sad. "Sempre libera," mad but not sad. No, I cried at the exquisite beauty of the moment, the big picture, created when everyone was firing on all cylinders. Myung-Whun Chung wielded the baton and shaped a sensitive reading; he is like Jeffrey Tate in his ear for the vocal/orchestral balance. He serves the singers well, and they him. The team has performed it before and will perform it again.

Vittorio Grigolo is the Platonic Ideal of Alfredo. He is beautiful the way the young Elvis was beautiful onstage. His joy and anguish are believable and he looks great in form-fitting levis, a tight black shirt and a black leather jacket. He was coltish, athletic, smitten and ardent, whether smiling or smouldering. And, oh yes, he sang beautifully. It was the rare instance of the music written for such man being sung by one. His voice was shiny and supple, rang out over the orchestra as needed, and was as delicate and soft as needed to be convincing in the intimate moments. The voice seduced this ear. From the brindisi, when he plays a white grand piano, he had my attention. That most magical of stage illusions happens: he becomes Alfredo. You could see his adoration for Violetta in the movements of his body and hear his emotional changes in his voice. The heat between the lovers is palpable. You never ask "why" because you understand perfectly well.

Patrizia Ciofi creates a stunning Violetta with pale white skin and long red hair, her lean body alternately tense and voluptuous. She has internalized this production; it is hard to tell where she ends and it begins. She is compelling, heart-breaking, and exquisitely musical. She also plays well with others, which makes her an ideal partner in duets. Her transformation during the confrontation with Giorgio Germont, from no to yes, from life to death, was visceral and noble. Her public humiliation at Flora's party was shattering. The stage picture for the prelude to Act 3, Violetta alone on the floor, her face illuminated only by the glow of the empty television screen on the floor beside her, was chilling. "Addio del passato" was the bitter and sad farewell of a dying woman.

This beautiful partnership began in 2005 when this production was new, and, under the baton of Loren Maazel, it reopened Fenice after the fire and rebuild. It has aged well; Robert Carsen is like that. The Modern Indefinite sets and costumes create a parallel universe I could easily step into and believe. Carsen's visions are poetic; they ripen nicely. The chemistry was there for magic, and it happened again and again.

I love live opera for times like these, when the fourth wall dissolves and you are in another world where only music is spoken and it is talking directly to your heart and soul.

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