La traviata. Where do I begin with this opera? It's one of the greatest, most wonderful and tuneful pieces of theatre ever written in my opinion and by one of operas truly great composers, Giuseppe Verdi. I love this opera with a ferocious passion, for me it's everything I love about opera - it's beautifully tuneful, dramatic, gripping, devastatingly heartbreaking, and performed well it makes you want to leap out of your seat as the curtain goes down in raputous applause with at least a few tears in your eyes. Kasper Holten, the Royal Opera's new Director of Opera, says in the current programme 'We promise we will do our very best to move you to tears tonight' - Certainly worked for me! I just love,love,love La traviata!
The performance I saw this week was my second at the Royal Opera. It comes at the end of the mega run they've had this season, featuring a range of stars in the main role of Violetta. This week it was supposed to the turn of mega-soprano Anna Netrebko. Unfortunately (and not for the first time and I doubt for the last time) she was forced to pull out of her two shows due to an emergency foot operation..........I'm saying nothing. Anyway, in Netrebko's place we had the Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, who made her début covering for Netrebko the last time she bowed out several years ago. This was also the second time I've seen Jaho in the role, the first occasion being back in 2010 again at the ROH. I have to say, she wasn't quite as strong this time round. In fact, during Act I i was a bit nervous that she might not be able to get through some of the tougher numbers. Needless to say she did, and personally I felt she went from strength to strength as the opera progressed. By the end of ACT III she'd drawn me in enough to have me in tears as Violetta passed away and the curtains came down. That's an important aspect of opera, essential even - the acting. It's all very well to get up on stage and belt out a few big numbers, but if you can't act the part then you won't draw people into the character. Opera is essentially just musical theatre after all! Jaho plays the character with brilliant vulnerability. I'm becoming quite a fan of her's at the moment. She was by far the best aspect of Il trittico back in September where she performed in Sour Angelica, and although her performance in this La traviata wasn't flawless, I still think she did a great job overall.
It must be tough coming out on stage to perform to an audience who've come wanting to see a super star like Anna Netrebko. I guess it'd be a bit like going to a Madonna concert and instead getting the cast of Glee come out and perform her greatest hits. The potential is for a disappointing evening and a hostile reaction from the crowd, especially risky with a discerning opera audience at one of the world's top opera houses. The crowd was definitely a bit subdued on Tuesday evening, but I think by the end they'd warmed to Jaho and Verdi's barnstorming music had taken most people under it's spell. I certainly enjoyed it immensely. It has confirmed for me that I'm firmly in the Italian opera camp. I did enjoy my last Wagner, but it wasn't anything compared to the enjoyment I get from the great Italian's like Verdi and Puccini. These guys are why I love opera so very much. The music is just beautiful, it's dramatic, passionate, engaging. La traviata encapsulates all of this. My favourite moments are many in this opera. the entire first Act for starters, the opening of the second half of Act II, the closing scenes of Act III. They're all just wonderful, wonderful moments!
However, I have discovered my new favourite opera moment of all time in La traviata. It's buried towards the end of the first half of Act II (at the ROH Act II is divided into two halves,I'm not sure if this is common elsewhere), I say 'buried' because it's a very short moment, although it's very well know. For starters, it is the opera scene from Pretty Woman when Richard Gere (I had to Google him just then, that's how memorable he is!) takes Julia Roberts to her first opera in San Francisco. Just prior to this scene, Alfredo's father has been to see Violetta and has demanded that she leave him for good so that he can return to his family in Provence. Alfredo returns home to find Violetta upset and writing a letter to him explaining why she must leave, the scene unfolds with Alfredo demanding to know what's happened, Violetta proclaims 'Amami, Alfredo, amami quanto io t'amo!' (Love me, Alfredo, Love me as I love you!) to the most stunning, rolling music, before she flees from the house forever. It just gets me every time, I just love the emotions of the entire scene, the intensity of it. The thought of being forced to leave someone you're deeply in love with through no choice of your own. Proper tear jerker! I haven't described it too well here, so it's best if I add in a few sneak peaks of the scene from You Tube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fumXaNlU8co (This is a scene from the Netrebko/Villazon performance at the Salzburg Festival in 2005);
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob2Cqp6gWYM (Someone doing some illegal recording here at the Met in NYC, but it's Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qteu01dLfm4&feature=related (I don't want to promote this scene, but it's the bit from Pretty Woman - with that guy I couldn't remember)
Anyway - I'm out of things to say about La traviata. sometimes words aren't good enough! This might not have been a performance for the history books, and I was disappointed at Netrebko's absence. But it was still Verdi's La traviata and it was still at the Royal Opera and I still had an amazing night. If you only ever go to one opera in your lifetime, make it a good production of La traviata. Brilliant stuff. Makes it worth getting out of bed in the mornings!
Belissimo, bravo, brilliant, magnificent, tremendous, barnstorming, earth shattering La traviata!!!!!!
Seat: B35, Amphitheatre Left ***
Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, Thomas Hampston, Wiener Philharmoniker, Carlo Rizzi (Deutsche Grammaphon, 2005) - Live from 2005 Salzburg Festival;
Angela Gheorghiu, Frank Lopardo, Leo Nucci, Orchestra & Chorus of The Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Sir Georg Solti (Decca, 1994) - Live performance from the ROH;
Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Matteo Manuguerra, National Philharmonic Orchestra, Richard Bonynge (Decca, 1981) - Probably my favourite recording to date.
NEXT OPERA: Cosi fan tutte (Mozart) 7th February.