We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Brenda Rae as Violetta: photo by Ken Howard
The valiant courtesan Violetta was sung by the valiant soprano Brenda Rae whose gorgeous singing compensated for the abominable production of La Traviata directed by Laurent Pelly.  We were moved to find our notes from four years ago to see if memory served us correctly.  We had heard that some of the directorial excesses had been corrected.  True, some of the antics of Act I with Natalie Desssay cartwheeling over the cement blocks onstage did not happen but that was not enough to make this production at all palatable.  Mr. Pelly's "concept" was and still is way off the mark.

Violetta must have the nobility of character written into the libretto of Francesco Maria Piave and the music of Giuseppe Verdi.  She is a courtesan, something akin to a "kept woman".  She was never meant to be a cheap whore.  She led a life devoted to pleasure--champagne, dancing, gracing the arm of a nobleman.  Portraying her circle as debauched is just plain wrong.

The set design by Chantal Thomas is ugly and uncomfortable for the singers who must jump from concrete boulder to concrete boulder in Act I.  Their behavior was lewd in a very modern way with gratuitous and public sex acts that belied the original story. A wag of my acquaintance thought the partygoers were dancing on their tombstones.  Tongue in cheek?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

And why would Germont père and Germont fils, having traveled a ways to reconcile on Violetta's deathbed, abandon her as she dies?  Nothing about this production rang true; nothing was believable.  Such excesses were so alienating that it was difficult to focus on the gorgeous music, conducted by Leo Hussain.

Brenda Rae's soprano is luscious and her pianissimo singing is outstanding;  we believe she did her best with what the director wanted of her.  Michael Fabiano as Alfredo got lost in the hubbub of Act I and did not project much chemistry with Violetta.  It could not be believed that he was "crushing" on her for a year and finally met her.  His voice picked up some steam in Act II but the damage was done.  Jennifer Panara was excellent as Flora.  Jonathan Michie made a fine presence as Violetta's unloving lover Baron Douphol.  Roland Wood as Germont père sounded best in his duet with Violetta in Act II.  But if he underwent much character change by Act IV, it was difficult to tell.  Keith Jameson always turns in a fine performance and did so here as Gastone.  Apprentice André Courville did well as the Marquis d'Obigny.

Mr. Pelly's costumes looked like contemporary high fashion in Act I; I understood that the openings were designed to facilitate sex acts but this is not something we believe happened in that epoch except behind closed doors--not at parties.   This was not an atmosphere from which a well-born young man would choose a woman with whom to fall hopelessly in love.

Although no one was credited with wig and makeup design, we found both atrocious.  Brenda Rae is a beautiful woman and she was horribly bewigged, even in Act I when Violetta is meant to be at the top of her form.  We understand that a dying woman might look truly awful in Act IV but there's awful and there's AWFUL.

We do acknowledge that there are people who enjoyed the production but we are not of that ilk.  We hope this production will be retired and a more genuine and believable production of this (our favorite opera!) be mounted in the future.

© meche kroop

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