Wednesday, December 19, 2018

La Traviata at The Met

Giuseppe Verdi's opera La Traviata, first shown in Venice in 1853, is undoubtedly one of my favorites in terms of the music and arias. There's something incredibly lyrical and moving about upbeat, vivacious celebrations like "Libiamo, ne' lieti calici," and emotionally bittersweet duets like when Violetta and Alfredo profess their love..."Croce e delizio al cor." I've seen this opera live three times in my life (yes, I've kept a record!): the New York City Opera in Clearwater at Ruth Eckerd Hall on March 23, 1996; the Florida Grand Opera in Miami on November 18, 2003; and now The Met Opera in New York on December 11, 2018. Third time was the charm for sure; the performance was wonderful.

I had gotten tickets for us as a birthday gift for AA, and what intrigued me about this version of the opera was that it was a new production staged by Michael Mayer, and it would be the premiere of The Met's new musical director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The orchestral performance was fantastic; to quote The New York Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini: "I expected his 'Traviata' to be good, but not this good." Tommasini goes on to describe soprano Diana Damrau's performance as Violetta as "extraordinary...singing with big, plush yet focused sound," and baritone Quinn Kelsey as Germont as "grave and formidable." Both of them were excellent. I was admittedly a little disappointed in tenor Juan Diego Florez as Alfredo, not because he sang poorly but because he was not strong enough, but apparently that was part of his characterization of Alfredo, to make him more shy and uncertain. I thought the new stage production by Mayer, with seasonal changes in lighting, and a neo-Baroque Second Empire interior, were lovely and appropriate. The costumes did seem to come out of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, but overall it added to the colorful, moving performance overall.

The Met's website for the production has excellent videos with scenes and arias, as well as background information on the production, all worth watching. In reading the Playbill, I was surprised to discover that La Traviata first premiered at The Met in 1883, one month after they opened, went on hiatus for nine years, and since then has been performed over 1000 times, in a number of different well-known productions. Going to The Met can be extremely expensive these days, but we were fortunate to have discounted tickets I got through Columbia. I've been to The Met a few other times before, having seen performances of Aida (2012) and Tosca (2015). But it is worth noting that my very first live opera experience, when I was about 13 years old, was at The Met. Uncle Peter and Aunt Florence had been given last-minute box seats for Rigoletto that a friend of theirs could not use, and knowing my rising interest at that time, they invited me to go, so I went with Uncle Peter. The funny thing was that Woody Allen and Mia Farrow sat in the box next to us...and left during one of the intermissions! Going to The Met at that age (on a school night!), seeing my first opera live in that setting, was one of those lifetime memories you never forget.

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