A review of Seattle Opera’s staging of Peter Konwitschny’s production of “La traviata,” through Jan. 28 at McCaw Hall, Seattle.
Verdi’s “La traviata” is one of the most popular operas of all time, filled with all the vital ingredients of a classic: beautiful arias, a romantic story line, a doomed heroine and a passionate hero.
And it poses an irresistible temptation to opera directors, who inevitably want to reinterpret this great repertoire standard in new ways. Seattle Opera’s new “La traviata,” a restaging of German director Peter Konwitschny’s edgy production, does just that. It is thought-provoking, imaginative, striking, and well-sung. Those are important positives.
But the production, revived here by director Mika Blauensteiner, also has its repellent aspects. Shorn of a lot of its music, and packed into about two uninterrupted hours with no intermission, the show distorts the opera in some significant ways. The character of Alfredo, the romantic and impetuous hero, is here a nerdy bookworm – the only partygoer who didn’t get the formal dress memo and appears at the gala in corduroys and a cardigan sweater, lamely paging through a book in order to come up with a toast.
by Giuseppe Verdi. Through Jan. 28 (two casts); McCaw Hall, Seattle; tickets from $25 (206-389-7676 or seattleopera.org).
More distressingly, Alfredo’s father Germont later drags in a daughter who is a little schoolgirl (not the libretto’s marriageable daughter who is in peril of losing her well-born fiancé if Alfredo doesn’t behave), and Germont smacks the little girl in a scene that is more ugly than dramatic.
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And in the end, Alfredo (who, according to the libretto, is singing that if Violetta dies, he will join her in one coffin) heartlessly turns his back on the dying Violetta and joins the remaining cast members out in the house where they sing together in one of the aisles.
Nor is the décor likely to inspire audiences hoping for a glimpse of Parisian high society: the set consists of a chair. And a stack of books, and many, many curtains.
On the plus side, there’s the singing, chiefly that of Corinne Winters in the title role. She is a beautiful and fearless Violetta, capable of both power and subtlety, and able to leap onto the lone chair during one of the most feared of all soprano arias, “Sempre libera.” (The high E-flat was not pretty, but it was indisputably there.) An affecting actress, she made Violetta’s exuberance, despair, and inexorable decline in health all very clear.
Her Alfredo, Joshua Dennis, gave a vocally smooth and well-schooled performance, singing with an assurance that was at odds with the character’s gauche staging. As Germont, Weston Hurt sang with resonance and warmth, giving a particularly nice account of the beautiful baritone aria “Di provenza.”
Charles Robert Austin’s Dr. Grenvil, Barry Johnson’s Baron Douphol, Karen Early Evans’ Annina, and Maya Lahyani’s Flora all made excellent impressions.
Conductor Stefano Ranzani gave a vital and energetic account of the score, supporting but never overwhelming the singers, and the orchestra played Verdi’s glittering music with considerable finesse. The chorus of partygoers, prepared by John Keene, did a heroic job with some serious staging challenges and tricky choreography.
Does the compression of the three-act opera into a single shortened act really work? In some respects, it does not; besides doing some violence to Verdi’s musical intentions, the libretto tells us that three months have passed between the first and second acts, so there seems no compelling reason to stage them as a continuous present. Intermission-less opera performances are sometimes less popular with audiences than with stage directors.
But this brilliant score, and this timeless story, will appeal to audiences even if it is truncated, altered, and set on one of the moons of Saturn. Verdi had the right idea: love and death, and great tunes.