2009, Munich, La traviata

La Traviata


Composer : Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto : Piave after Dumas fils
Venue and Dates : Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich
9, 12 & 15 June 2009
Conductor : Keri-Lynn Wilson
Production Director : Günter Krämer
Sets : Andreas Reinhardt
Costumes : Carlo Diappi
Lighting : Wolfgang Göbbel
Chorus Master : Andrés Máspero
Violetta Valéry : Angela Gheorghiu (9 June).
Myrtò  Papatanasiu (12 June) and Elaine Alvarez (15 June) standing in
for indisposed AG

Alfredo Germont :  Jonas Kaufmann
Giorgio Germont : Simon Keenlyside
Flora Bervoix : Anaïk Morel
Gaston : Kevin Conners
Baron Douphol : Christian Van Horn
Marquis d’Obigny : Rüdiger Trebes
Doktor Grenvil : Christoph Stephinger
Bayerisches Staatsorchester
Choir of the Bayerischen Staatsoper

Notes :  Role debut for Simon


Personal review by Lucy Turner for SK.info

Performance on 15 June 2009

This was a case of another night, another Violetta. These were not the most auspicious circumstances for Simon Keenlyside making such a significant role debut as Giorgio Germont  – and the Alfredo (Jonas Kaufmann) must also have found it somewhat disconcerting. One does not know how much rehearsal time was available for each of Angela Gheorghiu’s successors, so maybe allowances are needed for occasional glitches during the course of the evening.

Let’s start with the Violetta, who by this third and final performance was the American soprano Elaine Alvarez, currently based in Leipzig.   After a disappointing start with minimal voice projection, she got into her stride for Sempre libera and gave a more than respectable vocal performance from then on. True, the interpretation lacked depth and she looked overly healthy in Act 3 but, as I kept telling myself, we must make allowances. It should also be mentioned that she was not helped in two major scenes by the staging which left her totally on her own, without the scope for interaction with colleagues: the latter part of Act 2 Scene 2 (which is not so unusual) and – inexplicably – the close of the opera where she staggered upstage through a gauze, passing Alfredo and Germont who, having exited earlier, were both still visible but uninvolved. Very odd.

Jonas Kaufmann’s Alfredo was so beautifully and expressively sung that it pains me to have to say that he seemed oddly semi-detached at times, as though his emotions were not fully engaged in the more reflective and intimate moments. For instance, during Di Provenza (admittedly a problem passage for Alfredo while his father holds up the action) he seemed to be just mildly sulky rather than devastated by Violetta’s departure; and the staging of Parigi o cara seemed uncomfortably contrived. Again, maybe allowances need to be made for insufficient rehearsal time with Violetta number 3. But he sounded lovely, and of course he can do no wrong in Munich!

Of the minor roles, the Flora made an excellent impression and the doctor had a gorgeously resonant bass. The Baron, however, was miscast: he was a lanky young man who made no impression, conveyed no authority and posed no credible competition to Alfredo.

Simon Keenlyside’s enviably youthful appearance – such an asset for Billy Budd – presents a challenge when playing Jonas Kaufmann’s father. This challenge was tackled – and triumphantly overcome – with much detailed and highly intelligent forethought and with commendable restraint in the make-up and wig departments. This Germont is an old-fashioned (but not elderly) martinet whose authority is never questioned, and whose age is implied through ultra-conventional dress and hair-style (short back-and-sides, slightly greying but not overdone), glasses, a stiff walk (and walking-stick) and tetchy mannerisms. He is well outside his comfort zone with Violetta; relieved and satisfied at having persuaded her to his point of view, he then gets very irritated and impatient when she throws an emotional wobbly. There was one misjudgement – small but significant – in the way he was directed: this Germont could never have brought himself to place a comforting hand on Violetta’s shoulder. At this performance there was unfortunately one rather conspicuous mishap in Act 2 Scene 1 at the start of the cavatina following Di Provenza: he had to walk well upstage, then turn at the last minute and, having lost contact with the conductor, he mistimed his entry for No, non udrai rimproveri. The conductor should have been prepared for this as a potential banana-skin, and she could have pulled it back together from the pit but failed to do so, with the result that singer and orchestra were out of synch for most of that passage. This aside, SK sang beautifully and with real character and authority, and the audience registered very strong approval of his performance.

Very quietly, and at the risk of being drummed out of the SK fan club, dare I mention some slightly uncomfortable intonation in a number of places? This tended to affect the top notes in phrases when he approached them from underneath. It was very marginal, and could well have been due to tiredness or stress; I’m sure he won’t let it become a habit.

I confess I found the conducting less than ideal – Keri-Lynn Wilson opted for some horribly slow tempi in places and had an unfortunate tendency to make delicate lyrical legato sound ponderous. To my ears, she had not mastered the broad overall sweep of the music, and I’m sure all the singers and orchestra would have benefited from working with a true Verdian.

The production was set in the flapper era, which is fun for the costume department. (Were people still dying of consumption then?   Maybe. No matter.) Alfredo was a real party animal, certainly not the usual spaniel, and gave most of his attention in Act 1 to teaching the chorus a trick with a champagne glass which became somewhat tedious with excessive repetition. A particularly notable debut in this production was Alfredo’s sister, not seen by Violetta but used manipulatively by Germont in his first encounter with Alfredo in Act 2 Scene 1 – an interesting touch. In Act 3 it was puzzling to see a total absence of scenery on one side of the stage, giving the audience a clear view into the wings  –  maybe a technical problem that evening?

The dramatic and emotional flow is, of course, always going to be disrupted at Munich by the audience’s knee-jerk tendency to break into applause at every available pause. Nevertheless, and in spite of the other points that I’ve mentioned, this was an exciting evening and a deservedly successful role debut for Simon Keenlyside.

Volker Boser, Abendzeitung

Translated by Petra Habeth

Amazingly poised

The sopranos Angela Gheorghiu and Anna Netrebko at their best are on a par with each other. But Angela Gheorghiu had to cancel the next two performances at the Staatsoper because of indisposition. Anja Harteros will sing instead of her. [Translator’s note: A week previously Anna Netrebko was singing in Boheme in Munich, that is why the comparison was made. Anja had to cancel too!]

Even confirmed fans of Anna Netrebko capitulated. “She is good and is doing even better” deemed Stephan Braunfels, the architect of the Pinakothek [art museum], in the intermission, who elsewhere makes no bones about his soft spot for the Russian soprano. Like the other visitors to the Nationaltheater he was feverishly enthusiastic about Angela Gheorghiu. The Romanian soprano should have enchanted her fans as Violetta in Verdi’s “Traviata” three times. Then, after the first performance the bad news: the diva has thrown in the towel because she is indisposed. Anja Harteros will sing the other two performances. The difficult (one) [AG] did not allow herself to be lead up the garden path.

We know that Angela Gheorghiu is difficult, because in comparison with Anna Netrebko she, perhaps deliberately, provokes. You have to blow your own trumpet. In Munich she was not to be lead up the garden path. Although the staging of Andreas Reinhardt in Günther Krämer’s greying direction is everything but friendly to the singers, she did not force [her voice]. She began cautiously maybe also to delay an illness that was starting. The big aria at the end of the first act (È strano) succeeded perfectly, but there was still room for more. But, then she approached the events with unmistakable gestures and an amazing musical confidence. In the duet with Giorgio Germont she made the well-cast Simon Keenlyside quite pale by comparison. There were wonderfully soft arcs, supported by an always credibly presented emotional will. Also the last act was mastered with wonderfully striking intensity. But: because Angela Gheorgiu had to deny herself every glamorous allure of the prima donna, the mortally ill Violetta died this time in these embarrassing poses which guarantee the use of handkerchiefs in the audience but (which) are old-fashioned.

Munich-born Jonas Kaufmann as a glorious, miserable, loving Alfredo. When Violetta acted knowingly and sensibly, he stayed with – as the part demands – a powerful, naïve impartiality which when needed was also able to produce a moving mezza-voce-magic. You could have become enthusiastic – if there had not been an evil goblin who always interfered disruptively. The conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson was chosen to accompany this voice-festival. The Staatsorchester seemed willing but stayed beneath their possibilities. The Canadian limited herself to control actions and to spell the score without tension. Comparisons with Traviata magical moments under Carlos Kleiber are almost forbidden. A good fairy should enlighten Keri-Lynn Wilson as soon as possible that Verdi’s Traviata score has a lot more to explore than simply the unimportant, innocent Hm-ta-ta.


Matthias Bieber, Tageszeitung, 12 June 2009

Translated by Ursula Turecek

Traviata became the triumph of a gorgeous trio. Furthermore conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson always retained control during her debut: Chorus and Staatsorchester were in good humour, so the coordination was right. Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta cannot be tamed. She does not care too much for what is going on in the orchestra pit but has her own ideas. “Now I sing!” in an elegant way. But on the other hand you get a profound profile of the moribund lady. Every nuance hits home, her acting alone deserves an operatic Oscar which we hereby want to inspire. No fear of great feelings – and this voice in addition: It is not exceedingly big but it carries even pianissimo up to the last score place. [translator’s note:  “score places” are places where you see only a very small part of the stage, but often they have little lamps so that you can read in a score while listening]. Gheorghiu shows what a real diva is, from sparkling laughter to great cantilena. Seamless, flawless, beguiling. Jonas Kaufmann as Alfredo was acclaimed twice: as a returnee into his city – and as Alfredo. When you hear his dark, earthy tenor at the beginning you may fear: How shall it radiate in the heights? But it does. And he also has a very delicate, yet clear pianissimo, a luminary phrasing thanks to a good breathing technique, great power reserves if necessary. Kaufmann and Gheorghiu get on with each other – rarely has there been a more beautiful smooching in opera. And as Kaufmann in addition to all his visual advantages is also a brilliant actor the duo does not have to fear the (Netrebko-Villazon) competition.

Simon Keenlyside as Giorgio: pure luxury. His sonorous, sound, warm baritone has a firm grasp in all pitches and conquers summits and abysses without any flaw or problem. At once you develop sympathy for the bad Daddy who comes between his son Alfredo and Violetta. He shows the father’s vulnerability, his fear of his family being shattered (although it already has been shattered for a long time) and of the society’s contempt. Keenlyside is an excellent alternative for Gavanelli – and hopefully we’ll hear him here more often.

J-M Wienecke, Opernglas

Translated by Petra Habeth

Performance on 9 June

The Bayerische Staatsoper made the care of the main repertory its compulsory business early this summer. Once again the well loved directions were woken to new life by great artists of their own volition. The coming together of the stars with the leading primadonna of our time, lead months ago to sold-out performances in just few minutes, and a flourishing black-market. After Anna Netrebko’s enchanting Mimi in June at the side of Joseph Calleja, Angela Gheorghiu, who is notorious for her stage allure, came back to the stage of the National Theatre after a long absence. What was locally [seen as] almost a manufactured diva contest in a sensation seeking presentation, turned out to be complete nonsense. Both artists behaved very amicably, at no time capriciously and put themselves into service respectfully. In any case, attention was focussed equally on the home coming of Jonas Kaufmann who has become a new media darling on the opera stage of his birth town. On the day after the failed Aida’s opening night, the two defined a vocal class which you normally take for granted in such a leading house. Only a few weeks before his tensely awaited Lohengrin debut at the Munich opera festival, Jonas Kaufmann gave samples of the Italian facets of his all round qualities.

In alliance with Simon Keenlyside, noble and cultivated in acting a forceful pére Germont, the performance showed an almost harmonically optimal cast which met the highest requirementsand was kept together by Keri-Lynn Wilson on the conductor’s rostrum with great care and remarkable stylistic sense, even without long rehearsal time. Angela Gheorghiu, who with the awaited grandezza (grand air) played to the gallery but who was always in keeping with the role, managed a rapturous rise from act to act after a nervously cautious beginning. Her soprano began to gleam and to sparkle in new colour shadings. For her subtle Violetta, who came up with many nuances and deep moments which touched hearts, she was nearly showered with storm-like applause and bravi salvos. Thanks to this unanimous success she seemed so relaxed that she threw compliments, enthusiastically gesticulating back into the jubilant audience. Gheorghiu will appear again during the festival in a gala concert with arias at the end of July.

Kaufmann, in the meantime a favourite stage partner of the Romanian, used the material of his interesting, strongly masculine-coloured tenor no less effectually, and showed the technical range of his abilities from aspirated piano to his strong top notes.

Casually the star trio, perfectly on each other’s wavelength, brought this 16 year old production to a breathtaking new life with their acting in the atmospheric pictures of Andreas Reinhard and the timelessly appealing direction of Günter Krämer. Even the partial renewal of the costumes of the opera house didn’t avoid costs and troubles – the attractive, tailored ball dress of Gheorghiu was real eye candy. Exactly as you love and expect opera in Munich – pre-festival of special class at the Nationaltheater.

Click the photos below to see our

Traviata Photo Albums:

9 June with Angela Gheorgiu


and 12 June with Myrtò Papatanasiu


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