Very few things in life one cannot refuse no matter how tired one feels -- a trip through a Manhattan snowstorm to get to the FedEx office to pick up that pristine vintage scarf from Balenciaga one's friend in Paris has found at the Puces in Saint Ouen, a daytrip to the Prada Outlet in Tuscany no matter how hellish the traffic back to Milan on the Autostrada Del Sole will be, crashing a NFL Madden-style line of defense made up of tourists to get to see for the 114th time the Cenacolo @ Santa Maria delle Grazie (or, as an American tourist enlightened us once, "the Dan Brown painting").
A Traviata in Parma's Teatro Regio is one of those things you just cannot miss.
No matter if the Goyard vintage luggage lies still untouched in the hallway, and the crushing jetlag is the kind stylish Oscar-winning films set in Japan are made of: we're so there.
We'll write about the gigantic lunch @ signora Miriam in Trattoria La Buca next week -- we get fat just thinking about it, we need a break -- so here's the play-by-play account of our night at the opera.
Back in April, we got excited by the idea of that subtle, most elegant of conductors, Yuri Temirkanov , in charge of Traviata, possibly OC's most beloved opera. We got worried instead by the thought of the Herrmann team (not Bernard, that major American composer of the 20th Century), Karl-Ernst and his wife Ursel, directing the piece. Because after bleeding all the Mozart awesomeness out of too many masterpieces (a sterile Così Fan Tutte, a lamely wacky Clemenza Di Tito that had Riccardo Muti rightly appalled, and he ended leaving the Salzburg production in the early 1990s, a geometrically boring Idomeneo) they got us all like, wtf.
We were obviously worried about the German couple's treatment of the piece -- not that we like our Traviata to be necessarily oldskool like the b0ringest Traviata we saw last July in Milan, mind you, we love that wonderful man of Graham Vick's amazing take on it and we're eagerly waiting for an opera house to hire Nigel Lowery to tackle Traviata -- but we were afraid of seeing just another punk Violetta OD with a huge needle in her arm as a Rocky Horrorrific procession of space trannies danced some weird tribal dance.
Instead the Herrmanns gave a very beautiful -- if sometimes pleasantly, slightly kitschy -- account of that greatest of love stories: the big fat dining room painted a Barneyish throbbing shade of purple, the huge oval table in the first act with a Madonna-circa-1985-ultraskanky-Material Girl-Violetta (tho' a really skanky-secksy Svetla Vassileva showing off some really nice legs) dancing on it, straddling -- long legs akimbo -- various lucky guests, their top hats flying everywhere, sparklers planted inside big pineapples, plates happily crashing on the floor. The vista of frozen lake out of the huge floor to ceiling windows in Act II, ice and snow enveloping the action -- the frostiness of separation, of the interruption of love, of paternal deceit. And the genius touch of Germont (a very solid Vladimir Stoyanov, with the right degree of the scared bourgeois' cold blood and with a very very good clear cut Italian diction) singing the heartbreaking "Di Provenza" as Alfredo noisily bawls his out in a fetal position on the floor, unable to even move or to stop crying -- a not so small touch, with a really strong effect on the audience.
And then the crazy party with the gypsies on a stage within the stage, a guy in a lobster mask (don't ask), the croupier cheerfully dealing bad cards, money flying again, Violetta falling down on the floor and her beautiful virginal white dress becomes a broken flower seen from above, her torso its stem; and she sings, "Alfredo, Alfredo di questo core" while lying face down on the floor, basically singing into the floor -- a difficult feat Svetla accomplished beautifully.
The third act, the most conventional part of the staging, had one thing that had poor ol' romantic Opera Chic (Traviata turns us into mush, deal wit it) in stitches: "Parigi, o cara" was sung with Alfredo and Violetta giving their backs to each other -- a lie that you're uncapable of delivering while looking at the loved one in the face. A small idea, but a very good one.
Vassileva started out bad in the first -- not because she missed any notes, she was spot-on all night -- but because she employed that huge voice of hers with really good centri but with the tops really really ugly, a voice that's too harsh up there and the more she pushes the more she gets it out of control -- not my thang at all. She got better and better, more confident, pushing less, and reaching into those beautiful middles she has, and even the lack of chemistry with Alfredo in act I, a perfectly correct if somewhat uninspiring Massimo Giordano, was replaced by a nice warmth as the opera progressed. It just didn't work at the party -- I mean, he's already smitten, OK; but she was just being a bYotch, not REALLY giving away one inch, and her interest for the boi totally approached zero; unhelped by really heavy makeup and those legs in black tights very visible all the time, she just looked like a very nasty skank, not one of the most complex heroines in the history of everything.
She thankfully recovered, stealing the show from the boi. We have already said that Stoyanov as Germont gave a really dignified appearence to that awful man's hypocrisy, and his Di Provenza was really good.
TEH UNCLE SOLLY
Yuri Temirkanov, our dear Uncle Solly, did something very special and unique (and was cheered as a hero by the Parma Verdi ultrasnobs): as we wrote last night, in Act I a few times the voices, and in one instance the orchestra, couldn't really match his intentions and the voices lagged slightly behind and the orchestra ran the risk of giving that appalling ooompah-ooompah beat that Verdi gets whenever things in the pit collapse on themselves -- Temirkanov's quicksilver tempi were the fastest we've heard this side of young Muti (still our fave conducting in any Traviata), the pacing that required lighting-fast change of colors -- then the production really took off, and it all made sense: the understated lean/mean Traviata of the first act was in fact as flirtatious with the listeners as Violetta's own attitude -- became in Act II, with the separation of the lovers, a brooding race toward their frantic reunion; then the horrible sadness of Act III, Violetta's death hitting you as hard as a slap across the face, the dark colors of Act II having become very clear and delicate in Act III -- Temirkanov conducting with a merciless eye toward the text, toward what's happening onstage -- a stroke of genius that made the audience perplexed at first, then when it became clear what he was doing, well, somebody even screamed "Bravo Maestro!" right after the preludio of Act III, igniting more applause from the audience, and you should have been there to hear the cheering, the "Grazie Maestro!" screamed from the usually cruel loggionisti, and Temirkanov shyly climbing onstage as the orchestra happily stomped their feet on the pit's wooden floor, beating their bows on their music stands, and Temirkanov was kissed twice by his Violetta and he shyly pointed his index finger toward his cheek -- requesting a third kiss, Russian style, bringing down teh haus even more.
PS:: A quick note to fans of the too-famous Violettas who think that it's all about them, period: whenever Vassileva came out on stage to enjoy her many calls, she pointed to the orchestra pit, and clapped her hands, asking the audience to give it up for the kids who had played so well such an unusual reading of Traviata. She knew that without their great work, and had the grace to share the massive cheering with them.