La Traviata
review by Gregory Avery, 25 August 2000

There are two very good reasons to see the new presentation of La Traviata (which is scheduled to air on PBS stations the week of August 27).

The first is the production itself, which was staged, filmed, and broadcast live over French television, and throughout Europe, on June 3 and 4, during the same times-of-day as indicated in the opera's storyline. The story's setting was moved from the mid-19th century to the year 1900. The party thrown by Violetta, the heroine, was staged at the Hotel de Boisgelin, in Paris, and broadcast on the evening of Saturday, June 3; the scenes depicting Alfredo and Violetta's retreat in the country were staged and broadcast the afternoon of the following Sunday, from Le Hameau de la Reine, the one-time "country cottage" of Marie Antoinette, at Versailles; and the final scene was played in an apartment on the Ile St.-Louis, in the heart of Paris and within sight of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, on the evening of Sunday, June 4. This last scene was done in one continuous take lasting just under twenty-six minutes, and was timed so that its conclusion would coincide with the bells of Notre-Dame ringing at midnight.

"Twenty-six minutes???" Yes! The production uses electronic Steadicams, rehearsed to move along, and within, the action as it is being played. The first thing one notices is that the process conveys a sense of intimacy without becoming intrusive, or "cramping" the actors. The second is that the pictorial quality is impeccable. The great cinematographer Vittorio Storaro supervised the photography of this production, and the technology combines both the mobility and fluidity of modern video with the high-detailed pictorial and color composition that is for the most part only achieved on film. The scenes at Le Hameau and at Le Petit Palais, where Alfredo humiliates Violetta in public against a twilight-colored sky, are as good as any of Storaro's work for Bernardo Bertolucci's films.

The second very good reason to see this production of Traviata is Eteri Gvazava, the young Russian-born soprano who plays Violetta, and who is as lithe and beautiful as an Erté figure or one of the dancers in Degas' photographs. And both fans of opera, and of just plain fine singing, will want to get a look at her, here: I am not kidding when I say that this lady is going to be a big star. It's probably too soon -- and unfair -- to start making comparisons, pro or con, between her and the great singers such as Callas or Leontyne Price, but Gvazava both sings beautifully and performs beautifully, and there are moments -- such as during the opening scene, when she sings the famous "champagne toast" aria -- when she soars. Considering how fiendishly complicated this production must have been -- a similar presentation of Tosca nearly reached crisis level when Placido Domingo stumbled, on-camera, in one scene -- the performance, and its lead performer, play with the grace of a leaf floating in mid-air.

Directed by:
Giuseppe Patroni Griffi

Eteri Gvazava
José Cura
Alain Gabriel
Magali Leger
Rolando Panerai

Written by:
Giuseppe Verdi




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