La Traviata, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2010

Ermonela Jaho as Violetta and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Germont, ROH photo by Johan Persson

This revival of Richard Eyre’s fine production features two young Albanian singers, Ermonela Jaho as Violetta and Saimir Pirgu as her lover Alfredo, with the wonderful Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Alfredo’s father, Germont. Mr. Hvorostovsky sang gloriously in the dress rehearsal I attended — it’s worth going to this brief run of five performances just to hear him. Both Ms. Jaho and Mr. Pirgu sang strongly after a rather nervous start, but things improved as the performance moved forward, and Act III came over very well. I well remember Ermonela Jaho stepping in for Anna Netrebko at the Royal Opera in January 2008, again with Hvorostovsky as Germont, and her beautifully soft rendering of the death scene in Act III is a thing to behold. She has a terrific ability to sing softly, and I much preferred her Violetta in Act III to that of the party scene in Act I, where she has the difficult job of being the first and main soloist at the start of the Act.

When I saw this opera last year at Covent Garden, with Fleming, Calleja and Hampson, I thought the acting was superb, but this time I found it disappointing by comparison. I would have preferred more chemistry between the lovers, and a more passionate Alfredo, but this may be partly due to the revival director. The urgency and passion were not helped by the conducting of Yves Abel, whom I haven’t heard before. The orchestral playing lacked tension, and the tempi seemed flaccid. Musically this opera should be really gripping, as it was last June with Antonio Pappano in the orchestra pit.

The production still works well, with good designs by Bob Crowley, and the lighting by Jean Kalman is generally excellent, though I don’t remember it appearing so bright in Act III when the curtains are opened. Violetta has just sung son sett’ore (it’s seven o’clock), and this Act takes place during the Paris Carnival, which is in February or early March. Sunrise at the latitude of Paris is not until later.

Performances with this cast continue until May 24, and start again on July 8 with the same conductor but different singers, including Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta.

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