Robert Carsen’s production of La Traviata was the first staged work at the ‘new’ Fenice in 2004 and, although some of the concepts now look a little dated, it remains a fresh and valid interpretation of what Verdi called “A subject from our own time.” It was the composer’s wish to present the work in contemporary dress, but that was forbidden in 1853 owing to the feeling that to do so would represent too shocking an experience: Carsen’s version respects Verdi’s wish in that Patrick Kinmonth’s costumes and setting are very modern.
Completely restored as the house is, it’s still a unique pleasure to see La Traviata here, since the work was first performed at La Fenice. It’s also a rare treat to hear an all-Italian cast and conductor in this music, since the cadences of the phrases come so naturally to them. Stefano Ranzani has a distinguished record of conducting Verdi, including performances at La Scala and the Met, and his relaxed way with the music proved ideal in this most intimate of settings, the sound often delicate yet always audible, and with finely judged tempi for the more dramatic scenes. The orchestra of La Fenice responded to him with graceful precision, and the chorus, trained by Claudio Marino Moretti, splendidly evoked the febrile atmosphere of the party scene.
Francesca Sassu has a statuesque presence and a fulsome voice, so her Violetta is not markedly vulnerable at the outset, and her illness and death not so much wasting away as elegant decline. She looked fabulous in her costumes and succeeded in convincing us of her character’s innate nobility and selflessness. The voice is capable of hushed tenderness yet able to handle the most challenging of the high phrases.
Alessandro Scotto di Luzio’s Alfredo reveals a genuinely Italianate tenor, with all that that means in terms of honeyed tone as well as occasional lapses into indulgent phrasing. His arias were solidly performed, and his part in ‘Parigi o cara’ was sensitively sung. Armando Gabba was a more than usually stiff Germont, ‘di Provenza il mar’ seemingly the only tenderness permitted to him.
The supporting cast was strong, with Elisabetta Martorana’s Flora and William Corrò’s Baron especially well performed. The latter is a native of Venice and one from whom we’ll definitely hear more. The contrast between Sabrina Vianello’s sweet Annina and Mattia Denti’s nonchalant Grenvil was very marked.
Carsen’s production emphasizes the superficiality of the society which admired wealth and profligacy whilst marginalizing those on its fringes, and the emphasis on money (dollars instead of leaves falling from the sky in the countryside) and glitz makes for a dazzling show. The ever-present dappled shade of the trees reminds us of the happier life of the couple, and the blingy ‘gypsy’ scene still looks bang up to date with its ‘almost full Monty’ silver-clad dancers. That the production still has the power to shock was evident from some of the interval conversations, so despite so many performances having been given and scheduled, it retains its originality even after many imitations.