Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Violetta Valéry: Hei-Kyung Hong
Alfredo Germont: Matthew Polenzani
Giorgio Germont: Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Willy Decker's modern staging of La Traviata returned to the Metropolitan Opera last night with Hei-Kyung Hong replacing Natalie Dessay who was ill.
Hong was a fine actress whose frail, exhausted manner suited her character. The problem was that she sounded frail and exhausted as well, especially in Act 1 where her Sempre libera was barely audible. But she did gain volume in Acts 2 and 3 and even though her voice has lost some of its luster, her portayal was quite moving particularly in Addio del passato.
Polenzani was a lyrical Alfredo though he used too much vibrato which sometimes gave the impression of operatic overacting. He gamely indulged the director's whims such as singing De' miei bollenti spiriti in boxer shorts rather than hunting clothes and generally getting knocked around by various members of the cast.
The evening belonged to Hvorostovsky whose Germont combined nobility with tenderness. His glamorous good looks lent an interesting dynamic to his Piangi piangi duet with Violetta (which has never sounded so seductive), and hiis velvet sound and ardent phrasing in Di provenza drew ecstatic applause. It was a pleasure to watch him.
Under Luisi, the orchestra was lackluster in the first act, perhaps toned down to accommodate Hong's small voice, but bloomed as the opera progressed. The Act 3 prelude was especially haunting.
Peter Gelb, the general manager at the Met, has been updating the repertory's staging to reflect current trends in Europe and this production sharply contrasted with Zeffirelli's traditional designs. All three acts took place in a clinical white set with a minimum of furnishings. The chorus, dressed identically in black suits (including the women), moved with menacing choreography that made Violetta, and sometimes Alfredo, seem like victims of an intolerant and judgmental mob. The symbolism was sometimes heavy handed, as with the big clock, the constant presence of Doctor Grenville, and Violetta's plain red dress (in lieu of a ballgown) which was worn in drag in one scene and by a young, seemingly innocent woman in another.
These ideas were interesting though stripping the opera of its period context and luxurious trappings effectively minimized the class differences between Violetta and the Germonts, and consequently the story of a courtesan who leaves her high born lover in order to protect his family's reputation no longer made much sense.
Still, I was engrossed with the production and am almost tempted to see the opera again with Natalie Dessay who is still scheduled to perform through the beginning of May.
Here's the Brindisi from the original Willy Decker production in Salzburg with Anna Nebtrenko and Rolando Villazon.