Search Results: 'traviata'

OT: “La traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera

Verdi in an odd hat.

Verdi in an odd hat.

Darlings, I am on vacation, and I wish you all Chag Pesach Sameach, Happy Easter, or just “Have a nice day” if you celebrate neither of the above.

I did, however, head uptown to review the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of La traviata for The Classical Review.

Hei-Kyung Hong was a marvelous Violetta, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky was in sensational form.

Back at you soon!

Maria Callas in Verdi’s La traviata IV

This excerpt, the opera’s final scene, is from the January 1956 La Scala Traviata. Carlo Maria Giulini conducts; Gianni Raimondi is Alfredo and Ettore Bastianini is Germont.

As mentioned earlier, I have been listening a lot lately to Traviata recordings. Netrebko and Fabbricini both have many virtues, but they gasp their way through the opera’s last act in a very intrusive and disruptive way. This kind of “realistic” touch, though, is utterly alien to Verdi’s aesthetic.

Garry Wills noted in Verdi’s Shakespeare: Men of the Theater that Verdi wanted no death-rattle in Macbeth, no coughing in La traviata, and no laughter in “È scherzo od è follia” in Ballo. He felt that the music conveyed the stato d’animo of his characters and the dramatic situation.

Callas’s every phrase in this scene is limp with bone-deep weariness (excepting that white-hot ”Ah! gran Dio, morir sì giovine”), but un-musical and anti-musical devices have no place in her expressive arsenal.

Bon week-end à tous !

Maria Callas in Verdi’s La traviata III

Callas in rehearsal at Covent Garden.

Callas in rehearsal at Covent Garden.

I am listening a lot to Verdi’s La traviata these days as I write an overview of Traviata recordings. (By the way, have you ever heard a better “Di Provenza” than this one? Dodgy Italian and all, I think I prefer Ots even to Schlusnus and de Luca. And, heavens, Sergei Lemeshev! Count me among the lemeshistki. How dreamily, too, Vishnevskaya repeats “Parigi o cara.”)

In any event, Maria Callas: Among her Traviata sets, my favorite is the 1958 Covent Garden recording, and the high point for me is the duet with Germont. I love it for its small touches: the shocked and desperate edge with which Callas sings mai (“never”); the resigned and wounded way she repeats è vero (“it’s true”); that infinitesimal pause (noted by John Ardoin and others) before she utters the word pura (“pura”); and the gentle, almost blanched timbre she summons throughout.

John Steane quotes another critic (whose name I failed to jot down) on Callas’s “Dite alla giovine”:

[It is] the moment of decision on which the whole opera turns… By some miracle Callas makes that note hang suspended in mid-air; unadorned and unsupported she fills it with all the conflicting emotions that besiege her. As she descends to the solo, which opened with a sweet, distant mezza voce of extraordinary poignancy, the die is cast.

Here is a long excerpt from the Violetta-Germont scene. Mario Zanasi is Germont, and Nicola Rescigno conducts.

(Sorry for your having to click through, but embedding is disabled for the clip.)

Maria Callas in Verdi’s La traviata II

Ponder this: between 19 January and 20 March 1956, the Milanese had seventeen chances to see and hear Verdi’s La traviata staged by Luchino Visconti and starring Maria Callas.

Remember that nauseous old song “Born too late”? Yes.

In any event, today’s selection is a generous chunk from the second scene of Act III, the party at Flora’s house. The La Scala audience goes berserk after Gianni Raimondi sings “Ogni suo aver tal femmina,” and Giulini leads a brisk, tense, and (for lack of a better word) “peppery” account of the score. (If it were Riccardo Muti instead of Giulini, idiots would be demanding his head. Hélas.)

At least one of the still images is in fact from the 1991 Muti/Cavani Traviata starring Tiziana Fabbricini and a very young Rototo. I have been revisiting it lately, and it is remarkable.

Speaking of Rototo, I reviewed the Met’s latest Tosca revival, and there is a link to my review over at my other blog. (Yes, I am very “blogged out” and daydream a lot about the old Club Med, which didn’t have Internet access.)

Hear Maria Callas in other music by Verdi.

OT: The Enchanted Island

Joyce DiDonato, photo © Ken Howard.

Joyce DiDonato, photo © Ken Howard.

I do apologize for the blog’s downtime: it seems there was a nasty server crash. Well, phew! I am grateful to the computer deities for the (apparently) full restoration.

(By the way, I am working on a new blog so that I need no longer try your patience with off-topic posts here. Details to follow.)

The Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera: I reviewed it for The Classical Review. I found the writing difficult, what with a world premiere, a cast of thousands (on stage and in the production team), a pastiche, an original libretto that mucks about with its sources, etc.

In any event, I did compare Joyce DiDonato to Maria Callas in terms of overall musical and dramatic excellence. I think that this may be a first for me: I have raised Callas’s name in the past in connection with specific aspects of an artist’s performance, but never in a sweeping way.

This time I did make a sweeping comparison, and I made it advisedly. This is what I actually wrote. (My editor rightly edited it—again, I found this assignment very challenging.)

A comparison to Maria Callas is not to be made lightly—not least because poor Callas has been invoked so often to praise sloppy, unmusical singers—but the unsparing ferocity with which DiDonato digs into her music and probes beauties both ravishing and terrible deserves no less illustrious a parallel.

Now, that said, I am not at all inclined to see The Enchanted Island a second time. I saw Rodelinda twice and would have gone a third time if my agenda had allowed (ditto for Hansel and Gretel), but the cheap and silly bits of The Enchanted Island spoiled the show for me.

(The great Martin Bernheimer relayed Peter Gelb’s statement that he “wanted to play the Baroque card, but with a faster dramatic rhythm tailored to modern attention spans.” Dear Mr. Gelb: you and your team would have done well to respect your material and, most of all, the intelligence of your audience. Then The Enchanted Island might have been a show for the ages.)

As for you, dear readers, you should make a special effort to see and hear DiDonato. You can catch The Enchanted Island Live in HD on 21 January or in the house until 30 January.

Libiamo ne’ lieti calici

Maria says “cin cin”!

Maria says cin cin !

May 2012 bring you and yours all blessings of health, abundance, serenity, success, and love. Καλή χρονιά! And if you don’t mind something tacky (but wonderful), listen to this.

(The musical selection here has been posted before: the brindisi from the 1953 Cetra Traviata with Francesco Albanese as Alfredo and Gabriele Santini conducting. Thank you to a perceptive reader for pointing out my error: this is Callas and Alfredo Kraus in the 1958 Lisbon Traviata. I had intended to post the Cetra version but copied the wrong code. My mistake!)

OT: Faust

Timbre Marianne

“Entendez-vous dans les campagnes / Mugir ces féroces soldats ?”

A periodical from 1855 relates that someone criticized Auber and French music in Rossini’s presence, thinking to curry favor with the Swan of Pesaro. Rossini’s reply was both waggish and wise:
Do not undervalue French music. It has its merits. Certainly, it is not Italian; neither is it German; but it is all the better for that. It is lively, gay, expressive, witty, intelligible, charming; in one word, it is French.

A friend very kindly gave me a ticket for last night’s premiere of the new staging of Gounod’s Faust at the Metropolitan Opera. I had hoped to write up a short “formal” review but cannot, because of impending travel and also because I take no joy in crafting stroncature.

Where to begin?

  • My friend speculated that the set was somehow acoustically unkind to the singers, and I think that he may be correct. I heard what I know as René Pape’s voice only once, when he was singing from one particular spot downstage during the church scene.
  • That said, Pape sounded woofy to me, and he possesses neither the clarity of enunciation nor the finesse required for French music. (And the soft-shoe? Not so much.)
  • Jonas Kaufmann is intelligent, sensitive, a wonderful actor, and—let’s be real, folks—a Kravattentenor or, perhaps, a baritone. Either way, Faust is not a rôle for him.
  • After reading the profile of her in The New Yorker, I had no idea what Marina Poplavskaya had accomplished to deserve that kind of attention. Having heard her in Traviata and Faust, I still have no idea. She was ghastly as Marguerite. Worse, the otherwise worthy Yannick Nézet-Séguin slackened the tempos, thereby prolonging the agony of hearing her out-of-tune mewling and shrieking. And yet, under one of those wicked come-scritto hacks, Poplavskaya can sing splendidly. Was she indisposed Monday evening?
  • (Whatever her foibles, Angela Gheorghiu can be counted on to deliver the goods vocally.)
  • Russell Braun, a great favorite of mine, was at his best in Valentin’s death scene, when his voice finally bloomed. (Nota bene: He was downstage and off to the side then.) Michèle Losier was a fine Siébel.
  • I admired a number of small touches in the staging: the shell-shocked veteran who went berserk when a camera flash went off; the woman who waited in vain for her husband or son to return from the front; Marguerite’s panicked drowning of her newborn in the stoup/lab sink.
  • What was Voldemort doing in Faust?
  • The atomic bomb? And the neutrinos?
  • Yannick Nézet-Séguin: excellent, though much too inclined to indulge the singers. (The slowest bits practically moved backwards. Nota bene: If the neutrino thing pans out, we will all be able to move backwards, and I will at long last get to meet Machiavelli. Fingers crossed.)
  • Finally: “Lively, gay, expressive, witty, intelligible, charming.” None of the above. Not French.

P.S. Read Will Crutchfield on Faust. Good stuff.

Adorno on female voices

The Lisbon <em>Traviata</em> (EMI).

The Lisbon Traviata (EMI).

Male voices can be reproduced better than female voices. The female voice easily sounds shrill—but not because the gramophone is incapable of conveying high tones, as is demonstrated by its adequate reproduction of the flute. Rather, in order to become unfettered, the female voice requires the physical appearance of the body that carries it. But it is just this body that the gramophone eliminates, thereby giving every female voice a sound that is needy and incomplete. Only there where the body itself resonates, where the self to which the gramophone refers is identical with its sound, only there does the gramophone have its legitimate realm of validity: thus Caruso’s uncontested dominance. Wherever sound is separated from the body—as with instruments—or wherever it requires the body as a complement—as is the case with the female voice—gramophonic reproduction becomes problematic.

What an interesting quotation from “The curves of the needle” by Theodor W. Adorno and Thomas Y. Levin. The male self is identical with its sound; the female voice requires the body “as a complement” Without the body, its sound is “needy and incomplete.” It is fettered without “the physical appearance of the body that carries it.”

And yet everyone picks on French thinkers!

Maria Callas in Verdi’s La traviata

The 1958 Lisbon performance of Verdi’s La traviata is famous and widely available. Today’s YouTube clip, though, offers perhaps the cleanest and most precise sound quality I’ve heard among Lisbon Traviate. The selection takes us from the beginning of Act I through the brindisi, and the incomparable Alfredo Kraus portrays Alfredo Germont.

(Confession: I am not a “collector.” I live in a tiny apartment and am perfectly happy to own one version of a given recording—the version that I already own! I do know that there are individuals and companies doing wonderful work locating new, improved sources for many “live” Callas sets, or cleaning up existing sources, but I claim no expertise whatsoever in these matters.)

I find that Callas’s voice is heard to its best advantage here. And you?

Last year I posted video footage from the Lisbon Traviata.

It’s Verdi’s birthday week! Have you visited Verdi Duecento?

Callas as Medea

Callas as Medea at La Scala.

Callas as Medea at La Scala.

Maria had a way of even transforming her body for the exigencies of a role, which is a great triumph. In La traviata, everything would slope down; everything indicated sickness, fatigue, softness. Her arms would move as if they had no bones, like the great ballerinas. In Medea, everything was angular. She’d never make a soft gesture; even the walk she used was like a tiger’s walk.
—Nicola Rescigno

Read more about Callas as Medea.

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