La Traviata

By Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave

I Virtuosi d'Opera di Roma
Director, Adriano Melchiorre

At the Chiesa di San Paolo Entro le Mura

A review by M. D. Ball of the performance on Jun. 5, 2010

(Cliccare per leggere la recensione in italiano)

La Traviata contains some of Verdi's most memorable music. That's why disappointment is a generous reaction when a production is as shoddy as this one was. Yes, its being staged in a church requires a few concessions from a forgiving audience, but not when those concessions destroy the very heart of the music -- or the drama, for that matter. In this church, it would have been wise to stage this opera as a concert and to hire a director who understands acoustics.

The acoustics were, in fact, atrocious. The orchestra occupied the space between the nave and the chancel, which was not high enough in the audience's line of sight or line of hearing. Because the instruments were therefore directly between the singers' voices and the listener's ears, the orchestra was overpowering. The director didn't compensate by balancing the instruments against the voices. Even worse was the difficulty the singers had in taking their pitches and tempi from the orchestra and from each other. In the duet between Violetta and Alfredo in Act I, the two singers finished embarrassingly flat relative to the orchestra. In Act II, the orchestra started Germont's aria "Di Provenza" at a higher tempo than the one at which the singer joined them. Other such indignities abounded in this production, not the least of which was the failure of the stage lights to come on throughout the whole of Act III; the only illumination was indirect, from the orchestra's overhead lights.

The story within Traviata, of course, is quite operatic. Violetta, a single woman who's "gone astray", has a new suitor, Alfredo. Though reluctant to give up her freedom, she comes to see him as her true love. After months of a scandalous love affair between the two of them, Alfredo's father confronts Violetta to demand that she renounce his son. He eventually persuades her to do so. Upon reading her farewell note, however, Alfredo believes she has left him for another lover. His petulance leads to grave misunderstandings that, in turn, lead to the loss of precious time with Violetta, who, suffering from tuberculosis, dies several months later at Alfredo's feet.

The roles in this opera are rich. But these bland performances were no better than average for professional singers; indeed, they were often worse. And as professional or semi-professional productions go, this one ranks among the worst I've ever suffered through. Given the quality of the material and the putative experience of the singers, this was more than just an opportunity squandered.