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La Traviata

Verdi is my favourite opera composer, and La Traviata is definitely in my top 5 of his operas(Otello, Don Carlo, Aida and Rigoletto are the other 4). I'm always touched by the story and the music is some of Verdi's most beautiful. This 2009 production from the Royal Opera House is not my favourite production of La Traviata, that's a tie between the Zeffirelli and Anna Moffo films. But it is a great production in many respects, with my only criticism being moments in Act 1 where apart from the highlights there is the sense that the stage director didn't quite know what to do. The costumes and sets are lavish, and the traditional stage direction doesn't cheapen the story or music in any way, has plenty of emotional impact and allows the singers freedom also. Act 3 is devastating as it should be but it is Act 2, especially the confrontation between Violetta and Germont, that is the triumph(then again maybe I'm biased as the heart of the opera and the best music is in this act). The orchestral playing gives the score poetry and pathos, the chorus are effectively rousing and Antonio Pappano's conducting is impeccable.The supporting cast are rock-solid, but La Traviata is basically a principal-driven opera and I was most impressed by all three. Renee Fleming's Violetta is a more mature interpretation than her earlier performance with Villazon, which people will like and some won't. I didn't see it as a problem, her diction does lack clarity in places but her personal and affecting acting, musicianship and the velvety sincerity in her voice make up for things in many ways. I am not a fan of Joseph Calleja but he has done things I have liked, like his excellent Edgardo from the Met. He does have a beautiful voice with a fast(but not too bleaty) vibrato that can be even better as it matures, he displays great chemistry with Fleming and while not perhaps youthful enough for Alfredo he does bring a certain charm to the role. Of the three DVD performances where he performs Germont, the others being Salzburg and Zurich if I remember correctly, it is here where Thomas Hampson gives his personal best interpretation in the role. His voice is of a strong and ringing quality, and his acting is stern and sympathy with a touch of pomposity, I saw very little stiffness that was there in his Zurich performance and that is a good thing.Overall, a beautifully sung and moving Traviata though not my first choice. 9/10 Bethany Cox