This is a recording of Richard Eyre’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata (The Fallen Woman, 1853) at the Royal Opera House, London, in 2009. It is conducted by Antonio Pappano, with soprano Renée Fleming as the titular fallen woman, tenor Joseph Calleja as her lover Alfredo and baritone Thomas Hampson as his father, Germont.
I was disappointed to find that there was no libretto or song list included with the DVD, just an act-by-act synopsis in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. Surely one of the benefits of owning a DVD – or for that matter a CD – is access to the libretto? Watching the production with this on hand can help to understand the action after all. Luckily La Traviata’s libretto is freely available online.
This no-frills approach is reflected in the DVD’s use. It’s a very simple set-up: you can play the production from the beginning or select the chapter to start watching, watch one of the four special features, choose the language of your subtitles, or turn them off all together. And that’s it. Subtitles are available in English, Italian, German and French. There are just two extra features: a gallery of the cast and Antonio Pappano interviewing Renée Fleming.
The production itself is excellent. The Royal Opera House’s director of music, Antonio Pappano conducts with verve; the music is stunning throughout. The singing and acting are spot on – especially from Fleming, whose voice is simply wonderful. Much was made of her age at the time – at 40 she was almost 10 years older than Calleja. But she certainly doesn’t look it and her experience shines through at all times.
Costume and set design are gorgeous and the use of colour to convey mood is superb. Act I starts at Violetta’s party, where guests celebrate joy and Violetta and Alfredo meet for the first time and sing of love. The music is playful and light. The main colours here are bright gold, white and grey. Contrast this with Flora’s party in Act II. Here tragedy is about to begin, with Alfredo denouncing Violetta. The overriding colours are deep red and black; it’s a much darker scene with themes of heartbreak, lust and anger.
The camera follows the action well. One of the potential problems with watching an opera on DVD is that your view is chosen by the director rather than you – the viewer can’t select what to concentrate on. But here at no point do you feel like you’re looking the wrong way. The sound reproduction isn’t perfect, and I can’t help but think that even just a decade on technology on this front has improved no end.
At just over two hours, with a relatable story of love and loss and well-known music, La Traviata makes for an excellent first opera and this DVD provides a very watchable and inexpensive introduction.
• Price: £23.51
• Run time: 135 mins
• Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
• Release date: 28 March 2011
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A high-quality reproduction of a sterling performance, but the lack of libretto is disappointing.