Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dessay struggles but draws us close. Review of Traviata from Met Live in HD

(AP Photo/Metropolitan Opera, Marty Sohl)

"I missed a high note today," said soprano Natalie Dessay, "I'm sorry!"

Dessay confessed to the live in HD audience during intermission about a pitch that seemed placed but for which no sound came out at first. The note finally did speak and she closed the vocal cadenza at the end of Sempre libera.

Dessay struggled against her voice throughout the performance. It lacked her characteristic power, agility, and crystalline color. Often the sound seemed torn and raspy, and the cords did not always vibrate at her command. One hoped she would warm and rally. One hoped that it would not become a distraction; after all this is a heroine who is ill. But there was no rally. It was distracting.

But it was also filled with an unusual kind of emotional charge. Her determination was inspiring. Her extraordinary musicianship was also inspiring; and it allowed her to continue in spite of all challenges.

But in spite of huge sound from Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Giorgio Germont and an effective performance from Matthew Polenzani as Alfredo, the connection among characters that needed to take place in order to fully mine this plot never materialized.

The Willy Decker production remains "timely." The connection from the end of the second act into the opening of the third proved that the death scene need not take place on a Victorian sickbed, but that it was connected to the very location of abandonment. Alienation was expressed during the final moments by staging the heroine's drops into death alone and unattended by those around her.

During the first curtain call everyone else had vanished and Dessay alone was onstage for the first bow. She had somehow managed to draw us close.

13 comments:

  1. I prefer my Violettas to sound as though they're pretending to be dying of consumption, not as though they actually might be.

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    1. This «simplistic» production is a shameful profanation of Verdi's masterpiece and in all due respect, I sincerely think that those who say they liked it are either lying for whatever reason, trying to please someone or unconditional believers in what they are told to believe by their gurus.

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    2. Very funny first anonymous!

      Second Anonymous: Gurus?? Hmmm. You are entitled to your opinion on the Decker production. But don't assume that others with open minds are lying.

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    3. I give the understudy who had to go on for her on opening night high marks for bravery. I have danced Traviata in the traditional version and have an observation to make about this production.
      I thought it creative and unusual and the pressure that Dessay must have been under to pull herself together for the live broadcast might have felt like the scene we encountered with all the men pursuing her ...adoring her ....pressuring her to do it - for the producton..do it for The MET...her contractual responsibility...her reputation..the rehersals must have been exhausting in emotional and physical requirements ...I salute her and I think dealing with all of that up onstage where they even made her interview with Voight deserves a "Brava"...and a "Brava" to the understudy that went on for her for the opening.

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    4. Dear Annie,

      An insightful observation. I agree.

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  2. Great review! Unfortunately, I didn't see it, but I'll check it out if they upload it onto Met Player. Poor Natalie... it sounds like she really should have taken more time to get over her cold before stepping back into the role. But you have to admire her for doing it anyway. Since for months the Met has been hyping up "Natalie Dessay as Violetta," I'm sure she felt she couldn't let the public down. Kudos to her for that alone!

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    1. Dear Pamina,

      I wonder if this performance will ever be released. Perhaps is should not be. In this age of overdocumentation the idea of toughing it out can end up with an entirely different meaning. I appreciate your thoughts!

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  3. I heard the performance on the radio --- I'm glad to hear she was ill; by that, I mean, at least there is a reason for worse-than-usual singing from Ms. Dessay. But "extraordinary musicianship"? No. She is a mediocre musician who never seems quite to understand the actual music. She produces tones, but not music. I've never seen her in a live performance (I am not able to get out), so I cannot judge her stage presence, but her recordings... are boring.

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    1. No, I think you are being too hard on her. I also don't know for a fact that she was ill, but do know that she has been over the last couple of weeks. We need to get you some different recordings...

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    2. I have heard many of her recordings over the years, singing a variety of repertoire. I understand that she appeals to many people, but not to me. Regarding yesterday's performance, to which I listened closely: Vocal production issues aside, which as I understand were related to a cold, I found her difficult to listen to. Erratic rhythms throughout the performance, slip-shod ornamentation (she blurred right over the ornaments in "Ah, fors' e lui"), and the failure (over the years) to execute an authentic trill leave me wondering how she manages to thrill so many people. It was painful to listen to "Sempre libera." If her vocal distress were truly due to illness, she should have stepped aside. If that's how she sings when in a state of health, well... perhaps she should take a rest.

      It's all a matter of taste, anyway; some people love her, others do not. What matters is that opera is alive and well and has many passionate fans.

      I enjoy reading your blog (and your reviews).

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    3. Agreed. Thanks for the comment thread!

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  4. All was said about Violeta's underperformance, but the productions for the most part was either approved and praised or ignored by the reviewers. In my humble - if you are NOT a genus, do not choose their works for your experimentations. THe production was simply put (and it does not deserve more than "simply put") --- SILLY. Especially masked gypsies and bullfight scene. Good that Verdi could not see that nonsense.

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    1. The reason for the lack of critical commentary on the production itself is that it was first introduced in Salzburg in 2005 and has also been seen before at the Met.

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