Metropolitan Opera 2018-19 Season Review: La Traviata

Anita Hartig, Stephen Costello, & Plácido Domingo Shine Amid Glittery Trappings

By Logan Martell

On April 20, 2019, audiences gathered at the Metropolitan Opera for one of the last few performances of this season’s run of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” The nearly-full auditorium was abuzz and for a number of reasons.

This new production by Michael Mayer opened in December to mixed reception, resuming its run in the beginning of April. Despite the gorgeous details of its set and costumes, there is a lack of variation between scenes that makes the production, much like the character of Violetta, suffer from diminishing returns as it wanes from its former powerful impression.

Diminishing Returns

With its superfluous amount of floral details, nearly all of the production is touched not so much by transience as it is by the symbol of transience; the strongest sense of passing time comes from the plant life that hangs overhead, being full of verdant flowers in Act one, and later becoming a layer of autumn leaves.

For Violetta and Alfredo’s country home in Act two, the only significant change is the repositioning of the golden vines which covered the room’s walls, bringing them forward to create a more intimate space. While this falls short of making it feel as though they are in a different location, it seems to present the lovers not so much escaping society as cutting out a private swath for themselves before reality re-intrudes.

The bed which remains in the center during the ball, at what is meant to be Flora’s house, takes an unpleasant part in the festivities; rather than a terminally-ill soprano, the bed is briefly occupied by gypsy dancers for just a smattering of the profane, with their steamy and sharply-executed ballet.

Navigating Effervescence & Frailty

As the courtesan Violetta, Anita Hartig beautifully navigated the alternating, and at times overlapping, states of effervescence and frailty. In Act one’s party, Hartig moved well among the ensemble’s dancers, her flirty participation being cut short by a sudden loss of breath. This natural sense of playfulness continued through the brindisi and into the third scene as Hartig and tenor Stephen Costello traded romantic phrases which soon became more than the game it appeared to be.

Their duet “Un di felice – Ah se cio e ver,” saw Costello’s more extended phrases richly ornamented with Hartig’s demurring coloratura. While one of their harmonies heard Costello carrying a fair bit over Hartig’s note, the relative emotional investment between the characters made this choice feel and sound appropriate to their dramatic context. After a series of dazzling ornaments from Hartig, their vocal control was well demonstrated from their united scalar run which began their phrases “ah! Dimenticarmi allor,” and “Ah! Croce e delizia al cor!”

For the final numbers of Act one, Hartig displayed great vocal flexibility, able to deliver powerful ornaments as well as sigh away phrases, while her expressions revealed that her character was coming to new realizations about herself. A highly sonorous battle against herself ensued as Hartig tried to shut out these emerging feelings of love with wine and song, both proving ineffective.

While Hartig showed a more certain and poised demeanor in her earlier interactions with Domingo’s Giorgio Germont, the sheer desperation in her voice when his demands became fully clear were something to behold. These desperate tones later blossomed powerfully as she sings to Alfredo the tragic parting lines “Amami, Alfredo, amami quant’io t’amo… amami, Alfredo, quant’io t’amo… addio!” Through Act three, Hartig’s tragic bearing did much to convey her deterioration given the unchanged room. When assured of her recovery, her delivery of the line “Doctors are allowed to tell these little white lies,” was deeply poignant.

This infirmity was powerfully broken by the dissonant sting from the orchestra as she, after reading Germont’s letter, laments that they are too late. After her and Alfredo’s frantic reunion, the season seems to shift to winter, and the newly-falling snow appeared to call her heavenward as Violetta passed away.

Passionate Lover

In the role of Alfredo Germont, Stephen Costello effectively channeled the passionate certainty of the young lover, as well as his wounded outrage. After a more reserved entrance and introduction, Costello’s Alfredo comes to fuller animation when, teasingly asked by Violetta if she if his muse,” he responds “May you ever be so!”

For the brindisi, Costello’s dutiful expression was belied by the ardent tones in his voice, making his feelings well-known. After reading Violetta’s farewell letter, his anguish was only briefly halted by his father’s loving plea before he stormed off to Flora’s party. Costello maintained this bitter fire until it ruptured with his extended delivery of the line “che qui pagata io” when shaming Violetta before the gathered crowd. After being quickly thrown to the floor, Costello’s shame dyed his voice with softer, more pitiable colors.

The Icon Arrives

Saturday night’s performance saw the role of Giorgio Germont played by revered tenor Plácido Domingo, whose experience showed itself in spades. Following the ominous motif from the lower strings which musically announces Germont’s arrival, Domingo’s entrance in Act two was instantly greeted with extended applause, stopping the show before his line “Madamigella Valery?” As the cast and orchestra seamlessly resumed, their tense interactions soon took a more tender shift with his number “Pura siccome un angelo.”

Domingo’s affectionate, lyrical delivery was tangibly supported by the brief and unheard appearance of his daughter, played by Selin Sahbazoglu. This Germont was one who was adamant yet highly empathetic. The latter quality was highlighted by Domingo’s brighter texture as he inched his way towards Violetta while delivering his descending staccato phrases “Un di, quando le veneri il tempo avra fugata…” After he finally secures Violetta’s compliance, he attempts to depart before her uncertain questions pull him twice from the door.

With Costello’s Alfredo, Domingo’s heartfelt pleas for reconciliation opened up with a touching authority as he tried to relate his own emotional plight.

Past the glittering exterior of this new production lies a more traditional take on Verdi’s timeless opera, and the cast of Saturday night proved it all the more with their heart-wrenching performance. These factors made for a celebration of opera’s more beloved features while also making bold steps forward in how the performing arts are presented.


ReviewsStage Reviews