The ticket for this weekend performance in Paris has been acquired together with season subscription at least a year ago, and the enticing promise to see and hear Anna Netrebko as Violetta in the cast complemented by Charles Castronovo as Alfredo and Placido Domingo as Giorgio Germont spiked up expectations. As I was not lucky enough to squeeze La Scala Traviata with Netrebko in my full schedule last season, this would have been a chance to see her adieu to the role. But life is full of surprises, and just a week before the performance cancellation notice came in, followed shortly by apology letter from Stephane Lissner himself. Marina Rebeka as replacement announced was the best possible choice as Violetta has become one of her signature roles. Despite a mild disappointment, the afternoon promised to be full of new discoveries.
And Rebeka’s Violetta did not disappoint! The role was constructed with great care to keep a balance between social and personal angles of the character and the stage design and lighting helped a great deal. Vocally Rebeka flourishes, her top notes are ringing and sparkling in coloratura passages and some of the embellishments she used convinced of her confidence and stronghold of the score- immaculate vocal delivery. Dramatically convincing and naturally interacting with her stage partners, she has incredible stage presence and charisma. The final act took the whole audience into emotional turmoil, her final aria “Addio del passato” brought to tears even seemingly unshakable men – sobs of compassion and occasional sighs were all around in the 1st balcony.
Her passionate lover Alfredo was superbly portrayed by Charles Castronovo – Interesting discovery seeing him in the role for the first time. His tenor has peculiar warm and mellow timbre, and even the top notes are coming across without steel in them. Very convincing in “De’ miei bollenti spiriti”
The acting was believable, even if some cliches in his solo arias diminished the effect – also, as Castronovo is almost the same height as Rebeka, at some moments at the first act it disturbed visual perception as he seemed too small next to Violetta in imposing white gown.
Even if I have seen Placido Domingo as Germont before, he is always exciting cast member due to his incomparable stage charisma. If you align your expectations and do not expect imposing baritone with thundering voice forcefully bullying Violetta and blackmailing her into rescinding her love for Alfredo, all other interpretations are well fit for him as Germont. And this production allows for more sincerity- on the entrance of Germont it is clear that he and Violetta have a certain history and are on friendly terms with the high level of trust. Thus Germont’s story is begging for understanding and compassion for his young daughter’s future rather than selfish interest to regain his son. Domingo certainly is the tenor in a baritonal role, and he sounds like a tenor, while his dramatic commitment makes this setup to work convincingly, regardless of fragmented recitatives instead of delivery of the line.
There was a curious misunderstanding on my part at the beginning of the performance when the staff member came to the stage to announce some changes – and after him mentioning Domingo’s name the audience went into noisy displeasure which did not stop even with the appearance of conductor, Dan Ettinger and even when he took his position at the pit. In the noise, it did not come through clearly what actually was said – and I heard people at the first intermission discussing who is going to appear as Germont instead. When Domingo came on the stage at the beginning of Act 2, many people grabbed their binoculars to see who is singing the role and asking their neighbours to reconfirm.
There was one significant disappointment as the performance was conducted by Dan Ettinger, who was there at the pit, but did not contribute significantly – his conducting was kind of peculiar – if the first act got brisk and energetic start on the brink of polka, then both the second and third acts suffered from painfully and boringly slow tempi or unbalanced ensemble. If some of tweeps commented that he was the only reason not to choose this performance, I even might agree.
In overall, the superb singing and acting despite cast changes, indisposition and funny conducting saved the performance and I came out from Opera Bastille into sunny and breezy Parisian afternoon happy for taking chances and spending another weekend in the great city with the extraordinary opera company.
Opera in three acts (1853)
Performance on February 25th, 2018
- Music Giuseppe Verdi
- Libretto Francesco Maria Piave
- Conductor Dan Ettinger
- Director Benoît Jacquot
- Violetta Valéry Marina Rebeka
- Flora Bervoix Virginie Verrez
- Annina Isabelle Druet
- Alfredo Germont Charles Castronovo
- Giorgio Germont Plácido Domingo
- Gastone Julien Dran
- Il Barone Douphol Philippe Rouillon
- Il Marchese d’Obigny Tiago Matos
- Dottore Grenvil Tomislav Lavoie
- Giuseppe John Bernard
- Domestico Christian Rodrigue Moungoungou
- Commissionario Pierpaolo Palloni
- Set design Sylvain Chauvelot
- Costume design Christian Gasc
- Lighting design André Diot
- Choreography Philippe Giraudeau
- Chorus master Alessandro Di Stefano
Orchestre et Choeurs de l’Opéra national de Paris