When Angela Gheorghiu first sang the role of Violetta at Covent Garden sixteen years ago it turned her into a star over night, so her return to the role in this staging after a gap of fourteen years was eagerly anticipated.
Whilst aspects of her interpretation have become more mannered, few sopranos can touch her purity of line and beauty of tone.
Revived for only four end-of-term performances, ahead of the Royal Opera’s tour of Japan , Richard Eyre’s increasingly creaky staging of La Traviata provided a vehicle for Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu’s return to the role of Violetta which catapulted her to stardom in 1994. Indeed her impact in the role was so great that BBC2 cleared its schedule at short notice to broadcast a performance live from the Royal Opera House (would that happen today I wonder?) Since then, Gheorghiu has gone on to conquer all the major opera houses of the world and in the process has become as renowned for her off-stage tantrums as her on-stage performances.
Here though she gave a mesmerising performance, and as I’d not heard her live since she sang Li here in Turandot in the late 90s had almost forgotten how beautiful her voice is her high notes were fearless and full-blooded, yet she was able to produce plenty of ravishing mezza-voce singing where required. Her coloratura in ‘Sempre Libre’ was astonishing – not only for its pin-point accuracy, but for its phrasing and colour as well. She was vulnerable and moving when humiliated by Alfredo in Act II, and her death scene was genuinely touching. All in all, this was a pretty sensational assumption of the title role.
Next to her James Valenti as Alfredo certainly didn’t efface memories of Joseph Calleja last season, but he displayed a well-schooled tenor, although the sound often sounded pinched above the stave. Returning to the cast eljko Lucic was a pillar of strength as Germont, his ‘Di provenza’ an exemplary lesson in how to really sing Verdi with a proper musical line. Yves Abel returned to conduct, having been in charge of May’s revival, and whilst the playing was competent he seemed to spend most of the evening trying to keep up with Ms Gheorghiu’s tempi.
Richard Eyre returned to direct (as he had done for Ms Fleming’s take on Violetta last year) but his staging is now beginning to look its age the ‘Spanish’ business in the second act comes across as ridiculously ‘old-school’, so maybe it’s time to have a fresh look at this perennial classic?