James Valenti and Angela Gheorghiu
Photo: Marty Sohl/Met Opera 2010
So what was I doing at the Metropolitan Opera’s opening performance of Verdi’s La Traviata
this season? Well to be honest, I’d gone to hear soprano Angela Gheorghiu sing Violetta. I’m, of course, familiar with her career-making recording in the role from the Royal Opera House in the 90s, but this was the first time our paths had crossed in the real thing. And twenty years or so later, she’s still probably the best Violetta around. Say what you will about her diva status and behavior, this is one part she can sing with guts and real fire. She's nobody's mother in this part and what she lacks in warmth she makes up for in drama. Of course, this is opera, though, and the success of the evening rarely is as simple as one performer. The other big success in this revival is James Valenti. This was the house debut for the former National Council Auditions winner in 2002. And I feel at least judging by the audience’s response, this may be the first night of a very long and famous career on this and lots of other international opera stages. In Act I, Valenti appeared a little tentative. The voice was strong and athletic, but there was a little stiffness. But in Act II the nerves had burnt off, and he came out with all guns blazing for "De miei bollenti spiriti" and continued to generate one big ovation after the next. His is a dark toned tenor voice, but he scaled the high notes with comfort and ease. It also doesn't hurt that Valenti is a tall and very handsome man.
Photo: Dario Acosta
So with all this vocal wonderment, why wasn’t the evening a huge success? Sadly, the answer first and foremost was conductor Leonard Slatkin. Rumors abounded last week that there were conflicts between Slatkin and stars Gheorghiu and Thomas Hampson who sang Germont. On Monday, it sure sounded like it. There were huge pacing problems throughout and all the leads were often left in the dust as Slatkin seemed indifferent not only to their preferences, but even to letting them know what was going on. Several times I noted looks of fear in the vocalists' faces as they glanced over at Slatkin wailing away at a pace faster than necessary in several key moments. At the final curtain call he came out for a solo bow and stayed put until the cast came to join him, Slatkin taking his position not between Gheorghiu and her cast mates, but at the end of the row next to Valenti. They got through it, though, and perhaps they’ll all come to some agreement about tempos by the end of the run. In the meantime, the struggle was mighty distracting.
If there is anything else to celebrate about this revival of La Traviata,
it’s that we may be lucky enough to be seeing the end of the horrific Zeffirelli production that continues to return from the dead like some brain-hungry zombie. Or at least it feels like the production is trying to eat everyone alive. Even the hair and costumes have gotten to the point where Gheorghiu is doing her best Sandra Bernhard in Act I with her big dopey ringlets. Vanlenti and Gheorghiu deserve a much better production than this. Help is on the way with Willy Decker’s production the Met intends to import from Salzburg this coming New Year’s Eve. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for one of the voices of tomorrow and one of the best in the world until the rest of what’s on stage catches up.
Labels: Met opera reviews 09/10