Verdi, La Traviata, Blu-ray (2006/2009)
Director: Brian Large
Performers: Anna Netrebko/ Rolando Villazon/ Thomas Hampson/ Vienna Philharmonic/Carlo Rizzi
Studio: Deutsche Grammophon (Universal) 073 4525
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color, 1080i HD
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: Introduction, Documentary
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese
Feature Length: 132 minutes
This new production of La Traviata for the 2005 Salzburg Festival created an incredible amount of advance buzz, and was preceded by an intense hubbub in which patrons were quite literally offering blank checks to festival officials in desperation to acquire tickets for the hotly anticipated opening! This excellent Blu-ray from Deutsche Grammophon documents that event, and it’s obvious from the very visually striking disc menus that this is no ordinary Traviata, with its austere but visually stunning staging by Willy Decker. And there’s an incredible chemistry onstage between leads Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon – “sizzling” is definitely an understatement here – that makes this perhaps the sexiest La Traviata ever! Anna Netrebko is a very sultry Violetta, and she’s hoisted about on her red sofa [by the chorus members] to incredibly striking visual effect. Besides her ability to strike some seriously sexy poses on the aforementioned sofa, she’s also a talented and expressive actress and a superb soprano, who effortlessly tosses her lines about with an ease that almost defies description. Villazon is also superb as Alfredo, leaving little mystery as to why he’s one of the most in-demand tenors out there, and Thomas Hampson is in equally good voice as Giorgio, Alfredo’s father.
The action begins at the Paris home of Violetta Valery, a courtesan, where a rather reckless party is underway. It comes to Violetta’s attention that she’s been admired from a distance by the gentleman Alfredo for some time now, who eventually declares his love for her. Alfredo departs, and Violetta is greatly surprised by the effect on her of Alfredo’s declaration of love. Act Two opens with Violetta and Alfredo blissfully exploring their newfound love in a Paris country house [for several months now]. They’re interrupted by the maid, who informs Alfredo that she is in the process of selling her mistresses’ possessions at her bequest to help maintain their lifestyle in the country house. A troubled Alfredo departs to rectify this situation, and a new guest arrives, Giorgio, who is Alfredo’s father. He pleads with Violetta to leave his son alone, whom he feels is being led to financial ruin; Violetta then shows Giorgio the papers to prove that the money supporting them is hers, and not Alfredo’s. Nonetheless, she agrees to Giorgio’s request, and departs for Paris, while leaving a note for Alfredo breaking things off. Later in Paris, Violetta attends a party with the Baron Douphol, her former protector. Unbeknownst to her, Alfredo is also in attendance, and he confronts her – a most uncomfortable situation for everyone, but Violetta, sworn to Giorgio, continues the ruse that she no longer loves Alfredo. Violetta tells a distraught Alfredo that someday he will know the true depths of her love for him. As Act Three opens, we find that Violetta is dying of consumption, while her doctor assures her that her recovery is near, he also confides to her maid that she only has a few hours to live. Alfredo, who has been abroad, and is now aware of Violetta’s deception, returns hoping to reconcile with her. Both Alfredo and Giorgio beg her forgiveness, but she soon collapses and dies.
The color palette employed here is pretty dramatic, and on the whole, the image quality is really quite good, if perhaps very slightly lacking in absolute clarity of detail – it’s just the slightest bit on the soft side. That, in addition to the somewhat lower-res appearance of the bonus features, is the only thing keeping this otherwise superb Blu-ray disc from getting five stars. That said, the film had really good black levels, and excellent contrast – it just seemed a trace soft for a transfer of such a recent vintage. The audio content, however, was flawless, with the DTS HD Master Audio option offering a truly dynamic and convincing impression of being present at the live event. The audience obviously loved every minute, and regularly roared their approval. And while I might have been unimpressed with the appearance of the making-of documentary, I found that it truly offered a great deal of insight to my greater appreciation of the overall production. The rehearsal scenes were particularly enjoyable, where the principals went from absolute seriousness to laughter and playfulness at a moment’s notice – they truly appeared to delight in the bold new approach this production was taking!
Fans of Verdi’s masterwork will not be disappointed by the excellent vocal performances given here, and for those looking for a visually stylistic alternative to more stodgily traditional offerings, this is your ticket. Just do yourself a favor and crank up the AC before the show starts, otherwise the flaming onscreen passion may cause your widescreen to spontaneously combust. Not to be missed – very highly recommended!
— Tom Gibbs