La Traviata alla Scala

“La vita riprendo” (“I take my life back”), as Macbeth says after his delirious scene when Banco’s spectre appeared at the banquet.

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Violetta Valéry: Marina Rebeka
Flora Bervoix: Chiara Isotton
Annina: Francesca Pia Vitale
Alfredo Germont: Atalla Ayan
Giorgio Germont: Leo Nucci
Gastone: Carlo Bosi
Barone Douphol: Costantino Finucci
Marchese d’Obigny: Fabrizio Beggi
Dottor Grenvil: Alessandro Spina
Giuseppe: Brayan Avila Martinez
Commissionario/Domestico: Ernesto Panariello

Conductor: Zubin Mehta

Music:
Direction:

The spectre of COVID being partly exorcised, La Scala returns to life, almost in full, with concert performances of three of the most popular operas of the whole Italian repertory. And the series opens with the classic of classics: Verdi’s La Traviata.

On Monday, 28 September, we set foot again at La Scala to watch the last of the five performances of the opera, and it was an almost overwhelming emotion. True, the stalls were punctuated by white signs warning not to sit there, due to social distancing. The orchestra occupied almost the entire stage, the space left for the singers was a thin strip on the front… but it was in-house opera again, and that was really, really great!

La Traviata
Photo credit: Brescia e Amisano

All the more so when we discovered that, rather than a genuine concert performance – with the singers all lined up behind their lecterns – we were to watch a sort of semi-scenic staging. And actually, it was! Even more so as the female protagonists wore beautiful dresses, or rather costumes, created by Dolce & Gabbana for the occasion.

So, we knew we were bound to see and hear almost the “real thing”… and we were not let down, partly thanks to some small, but perceivable touches of direction, given with a very light and discreet, highly professional hand by Franco Malgrande (mentioned in the play-bill as “Direttore dell’allestimento scenico”) and Lorenza Cantini (“Regista collaboratore”).

At several stages during the performance, the rules of social distancing were cleverly transformed into effective stage movements. For instance, when Violetta felt ill during the first act, and doctor Grenvil subtly approached to assist her, the gesture she made to keep him at distance easily became part of the performance, meaning “no need”, but also “don’t reveal my illness to my guests”.

La Traviata
Photo credit: Brescia e Amisano

But, of course, the main merit of this beautiful evening goes without a doubt to the wonderful Violetta portrayed by Marina Rebeka. Oblivious of the unusual staging, the Latvian soprano gave everything of herself – voice, acting, emotions – to her role, giving the audience a vocally impeccable, emotionally moving performance. Her “Addio del passato” was probably the most heart-wrenching we had heard in a very long time.

Opposite her, Giorgio Germont was sung by the “Highlander” of opera, the immortal Leo Nucci, welcomed by the applause he doubtless deserves. Of course, Germont is not the most demanding role for a baritone, and we suspect Nucci, after so many years, could even sing it standing upside down. Therefore, he was a truly good, and also somehow unusual Germont, who, after being cold and even downright harsh in the Second Act, in the end showed genuine, even moving repentance… as he really had never suspected the depth of the harm he had done to Violetta.

La Traviata
Photo credit: Brescia e Amisano

Not unusually in these times, the tenor was the weak point of the cast. We had seen and heard Atalla Ayan on YouTube, a few years ago, in Rigoletto, as a young and exuberant Duke (who literally couldn’t keep his trousers zipped, due to some “advanced” ideas of the director, who had him roll on stage, in the First Act, with his clothes in disorder – so to speak – and then had him “molested” by Maddalena on Sparafucile’s tavern table) and we had appreciated his fresh voice of true “lirico” tenor. So, we had rather high hopes for his Alfredo. Sadly, we must admit we were disappointed. The voice we heard last night had somehow become a little harsh, the phrasing was almost non-existent, the movements sometimes awkward. His aria, “Dei miei bollenti spiriti”, delivered correctly, but nothing more, and the cabaletta performed just once, without the “da capo”, gained him the bare minimum of tepid applause.

As for the minor roles, Chiara Isotton was a flawless Flora, and Carlo Bosi (Gastone), Costantino Finucci (Douphol), Alessandro Spina (Grenvil), Fabrizio Beggi (Marchese), Ernesto Panariello (Domestico di Flora/Commissionario), made their valid professional contribution to the success of the performance. The two students of the Accademia della Scala, Francesca Pia Vitale and Bryan Avila Martinez, deserve special mention, as they were called to “try their hands” on the prestigious stage respectively as Annina and Giuseppe.

La Traviata
Photo credit: Brescia e Amisano

What can we possibly say about the conductor? Zubin Mehta is an icon of opera, and he conducted the always flawless La Scala orchestra with all the assurance of long experience and a deep understanding of any inner secrets of the score. Unlike many younger conductors, he never prevaricated the singers, but “accompanied” them, creating the perfect background for their voices.  The Ouverture and the Prelude of Act Three, two of the most moving pages Verdi has written, were delivered with the light but firm hand the music needs to suggest the overwhelming sadness of a tragic, unescapable doom. Good as always – almost no need to say it – the La Scala Chorus, conducted by another icon, Bruno Casoni.

Marina Boagno

 

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Marina Boagno
Marina Boagno

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Marina Boagno is a life-long opera fan. She acted for many years as an amateur talent scout, organizing concerts, creating and directing events and looking for and promoting young opera singers. Author of "Franco Corelli – Un uomo, una voce" (1990) and a biography of Ettore Bastianini’s, “Una Voce di Bronzo e di Velluto” (2003)

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