Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Verdi: La traviata – Amsellem/Bruson/Madrid/Cobos (Opus Arte) : DVD review

track listing

DVD 1. Acts 1 + 2
DVD 2. Act 3 + interviews

There are a fair few DVDs of La traviata around, but this new release from the Teatro Real in Madrid by Opus stands up to the best of them.

Indeed, only the recording of Richard Eyre‘s 1994 production from Covent Garden on Decca is occasionally stronger, and the new DVD outclasses that one in some respects.

Verdi’s most popular opera is usually a showcase for its leading soprano part, the courtesan Violetta Valery. The Decca recording preserves the performance with which Angela Gheorghiu made her name, but Norah Amsellem is scarcely less impressive in the new Madrid DVD. She gives an even more multi-faceted and detailed interpretation of the role than Gheorghiu; the nobility of the character is conveyed with more heartbreak. She reaches for the top E flat at the end of Sempre libera with perhaps too much effort, her coloratura not quite matching that of her better-known rival, but her total absorption into the character is unrivalled. The death scene is quite simply the most affecting I have seen, even more powerful than when she appeared at short notice in the Royal Opera’s revival last year.

Where this DVD really scores over the earlier one is in its tenor, Jos Bros, whose lyric voice is ideal for the role of Alfredo Germont. His natural vocal beauty makes highlights of Un di felice and De’ miei bollenti spiriti, though the cabaletta of the latter (O mio rimorso) is cut in half, probably due to the singer’s lack of stamina. He may not be physically the best match for Amsellem, but his acting is always ardent.

As Bros says in one of the enlightening interview features, the casting of the veteran Italian baritone Renato Bruson as Germont senior is pure luxury. His voice remains remarkably full, and the tiny signs of wear at extreme pitches or dynamics only intensify his authoritative and mature performance. His face is a picture, the careful preying on Violetta’s conscience in the second act duet done with his trademark intelligence and insight. His phrasing of Di provenza il mar could be a lesson to many a younger singer on how to sing Verdi with finesse.

The way he participates in Pier Luigi Pizzi‘s modern production is also extraordinarily comfortable. Pizzi updates the action to the 1940s, and in consequence this is as chic a Traviata as you will see. The set is split in two down the middle of the stage, with Violetta’s boudoir on the left and a more public salon on the right in Act 1, for instance. This is especially effective in the full aria at the end of the act, when Violetta sings of her shock at being in love in her private room and then moves to the party room for the final section about her decision to throw herself into the joys of life. For the final act, Pizzi has only a bed on a polished floor for Violetta to lie on, with a balcony on which the reunited lovers sing of their future. Every detail and gesture has been carefully planned, with none of the static moments that plague the ROH/Richard Eyre production.

The opera is conducted by Jess Lpez Cobos, making his first appearance as the Music Director of the Teatro Real. He breathes with the singers, supporting them through the tricky passages, but there are one or two irritating moments where too much liberty is taken with the tempo. The orchestra plays with passion, though the strings sound a bit scratchy at the start of the first and third acts.

One the whole, however, this is a hugely satisfying new release, one of the best live opera DVDs currently on the shelves.

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