Saturday, 9 May 2015

Death-bed drama (Traviata/Teatro Real)

Verdi, La Traviata (Teatro Real cond. Renato Palumbo)

The Opera Platform's inaugural stream was La Traviata from Milan. It might have been my equipment, but no amount of adjusting overcame sound problems. It all seemed rather flattened. The orchestra was fine, but the singers varied considerably in how well they were heard. It struck me that singers didn't appear to have radio microphones attached to them. The camerawork wasn't quite figured out either -sometimes it didn't pull out quickly enough, or views from high in the auditorium were cut off at the top by ceiling or something.

Presumably Traviata is just too important for opera houses to take much of a risk. If they can't fill up for it, then it is a serious problem. And the most conservative portions of audiences go to La Trav (La Tosca, La Boheme and Carmen are probably the other bankers which will sell). Nonetheless, Macvicar's production was gloomy and uninmaginative.We were in too close much of the time to get a feel for it overall.

The first act with the sorrowful strings in the overture and thrilling Brindisi seemed not to sparkle but the music steadily improved throughout the opera. For all that whingeing, it was very powerful stuff. By the third act, Violetta had reached superb heights. Directors have great difficulty in making Violetta seem convincingly ill, but not so ill as to be unable to sing off her socks. Ermonela Jaho's Violetta was gaunt, and looked dreadful. But somehow the contradiction became irrelevant given the pure emotional power. Few conductors would allow such thundering from the orchestra in the last three minutes: here it was merciless, and combined with Violetta's final breaths, it was unsurprising that the audience went berserk. Indeed one head popping up in front of the camera suggested something rarer than not finding the heroine's singing incongruous with death throes: a standing ovation for La Trav.
Subtitles had been promised, but I could not see how to activate them -dozens of comments below suggested I was not alone. Having seen La Trav rather a lot recently it didn't impair my enjoyment at all. (At which point I might note that on other nights Venera Gimadieva sang Violetta - who was so fine at Glyndebourne last summer). But if this is about making opera accessible, then they need to work that out - or just have a PDF that you can print. You can download a programme at the bottom of this page.

Teething problems will be almost certainly sorted, and this is an exciting new venture. It puts together lots of free opera streams in a one place, with easy access. 

Ovlerall: The platform seems like a fine gift to humanity; on a day in the UK when many felt it was needed, a perfect Brindisi. 

The replay is available for months, but why wait?  Click here to enjoy.

Cast and crew
Fernando Radó
Ermonela Jaho
César San Martín
Damián del Castillo
Albert Casals
Marifé Nogales
Juan Jesús Rodríguez
Francesco Demuro
Alejandro González
Marta Ubieta
Lighting: Jennifer Tipton
Set design: Tanya McCallin
Costumes: Tanya McCallin
Music director: Renato Palumbo
Composition: Giuseppe Verdi
Choreography: Andrew George
Director: David McVicar
Choir director: Andrés Máspero
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave

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