La Traviata

Giuseppe Verdi, libretto Francesco Maria Piave
Teatro del Maggio Musicale, Florence

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Nadine Sierra (Violetta) Credit: Michele Monasta
Francesco Samuele Venuti (Baron Douphol) and Nadine Sierra (Violetta) Credit: Michele Monasta
Unnamed domestic and Nadine Sierra (Violetta) Credit: Michele Monasta

Thank goodness for Nadine Sierra. She stands out in this ill-conceived production like a rare, single prize orchid in a vase.

The honey-rich depth of her voice reminded me at times of Maria Callas, her upper register shines and each note of the coloratura passages in Sempre libera sparkles like the individual bubbles in her champagne flute.

The American soprano, whose latest CD was released this year, touches the heart too in a show otherwise lacking intensity, in joyful release finding a new life with Alfredo, and in tragic release and resignation at the close. It's a full-focus tour de force.

That final act is the most convincing, stripped of director Davide Livermore’s conceits, apart from the figures from Violetta’s past who parade like ghosts behind her, and her departure into the light as Alfredo cradles a dead lookalike figure on the couch. The Spanish dance in the second act is cleverly integrated into the chorus, but I struggle to find anything else in the production that really works.

The piece has been transferred to the 1970s, with hideous clothes, and a chorus dancing at Violetta’s party with all the elegance of middle-aged managers at the works’ Christmas do. Couples pair up in variable gender combinations, with a little freelance strangling, until things get out of hand and the Surete step in. A pity they didn’t arrive earlier.

Left alone, Violetta famously muses on the unfamiliar stirrings of love, "E strano!" while a distorted image of conductor Zubin Mehta floats up and down like a spectre in the large mirror behind her. Strano indeed. And what is one to make of the silent chain-smoking char written into the action at multiple points?

The second act is the most puzzling. Instead of transporting the action to a country house, the lovers seem to have deserted the false, glittering world of Paris society for the false, glittering world of a glamour magazine populated by half-naked slouching models and located in a slummy part of town. Alfredo must be a man of low expectations as he sings of his happiness "in this charming place."

Francesco Meli’s Alfredo seems to have wandered into the wrong opera from the start. Dressed in a ghastly frilly shirt, he seems far too sure of himself, coming across as a cocky lad who looks as if he couldn’t really be bothered whether his chat-up line works or not. What Violetta sees in him to set him apart from the rest of the wasters around her I cannot imagine.

Leo Nucci is out of place too, as Germont père, but for a different reason. Like Placido Domingo, who was 78 when he played the part at Covent Garden in 2019, it is remarkable that Nucci at 79 can play the part at all. But it hardly seems necessary to say that both are past their best, and look too old by a generation or two to be Alfredo’s father, Nucci looking out at the audience with a 'What am I doing here?' expression. I imagine both were there only because their names if no longer their voices help to fill an auditorium.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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