[Met Performance] CID:174150

New Production

La Traviata
Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, February 21, 1957

Debut : Oliver Smith

La Traviata (394)
Giuseppe Verdi | Francesco Maria Piave
Renata Tebaldi

Giuseppe Campora

Leonard Warren

Helen Vanni

Charles Anthony

Baron Douphol
Calvin Marsh

Marquis D'Obigny
George Cehanovsky

Dr. Grenvil
Clifford Harvuot

Emilia Cundari

James McCracken

Osie Hawkins

Fausto Cleva

Tyrone Guthrie

Set Designer
Oliver Smith [Debut]

Costume Designer
Rolf Gérard

Zachary Solov

La Traviata received twenty-one performances this season.

Production a gift of The Metropolitan Opera Guild

Review 1:

Review of Irving Kolodin in the Saturday

A lot of money and a lot of talent have gone into making the Metropolitan's third new production of the season a lot of "Traviata," though to say it was always what Verdi required would be a lot of overstatement. In the manner of its Violetta, Renata Tebaldi, the Oliver Smith settings, the Rolf Gerard costumes, and the direction of Tyrone Guthrie have size and are sometimes beautiful, but they seemed more suited to some other opera.

When Miss Tebaldi used her vocal resources thoughtfully and allowed her fine sound to caress the pathetic eloquence of "Dite alla giovine" (Act II) or "Addio del passato" (Act IV), this was singing to charm the ear and delight the mind. When, as too often happened, she turned on the kind of driving, attentuated sound she utilizes for "Aida" or "Andrea Chenier," it was oversized and slightly irrelevant to this program. Altogether, the second and fourth acts (in this version) were her most successful, for she doesn't yet command the vivacious spirit or the champagne quality in the voice to make the music dance in the first act "Libiamo" or "Sempra libera." Even opera goers hardened to the transposition of sundry showpieces flinched at Miss Tebaldi's unprideful concession to convenience in singing the latter a whole tone down, in G flat rather than A flat. Disregarding the ugly clash of tonalities, it also forced the tenor's offstage responses into a range disadvantageous for him. What price star system?

As characterization, Tebaldi's was superficially operatic, suggesting that director Guthrie, an intelligent man as well as a brilliant theatrical mind, realized that making water run uphill would be easier than changing the postures and attitudes which suit Miss Tebaldi, vocally. When she has a driving climax to achieve, the head goes down and the sound tends to be pinched; when the line is flowing easily, the chin is up, the gaze level, the sound beautiful. Guthrie's most effective work was done in the final scene, where the groupings relative to the dying Violetta were artfully contrived, considering the huge space of her "boudoir" to be filled by four figures.

Rolf Gerard's sumptuous costumes contributed much to the radiant figure Miss Tebaldi presented from first to last, whether in ball gowns (white with camellias in Act I, dark orange in the gambling scene), country frock, or negligee. Rather than suggesting the hectic flush of a consumptive, the radiance was all Tebaldi's own healthy beauty, too little dissembled for dramatic purposes, the attitudes and actions too firm and muscular to suggest a wasting disease. Such contradictions are as much a part of the operatic "art" as the prompter's box, but it could be hoped that a singer of her talents would do as much as such well-remembered Violettas as Bori, Sayao, or Albanese (not to mention Muzio), to make the role convincing. It may happen, but it hasn't yet.

Given the kind of Violetta Miss Tebaldi was singing (long-drawn-out phrases with ritards where none was indicated, a gush of sound where Verdi wrote "un fil di voce" - "a thread of voice") it was hardly surprising that Leonard Warren, as Germont, dragged some of his phrases. and Fausto Cleva's baton seemed weighted with lead. In commanding appearance and robust sound, Warren was the most Verdian figure in the cast. Recalling his treatment of the role in years past, Warren must be admired for mastering all aspects of it when he might have been content to coast on voice alone. Giuseppe Campora's appearance is ideal for Alfredo, though his light voice sounded in better blood at the dress rehearsal than it did at the first performance. Supporting Miss Tebaldi's heavy "Addios," when the melodic line is the tenor's, might well contribute to fatigue, All the small parts (Helen Vanni, Emilia Cundari, Calvin Marsh, Charles Anthony, Clifford Harvuot, and especially George Cehanovsky as the Marquis) were well performed.

To regard this truly as a Guthrie production would, I suspect, be inaccurate. Hans Busch was visible as assistant (though not identified on the program). The management of masses in Act I was reasonably good, but stilted and confused in a poorly conceived version of the gambling scene. Guthrie's hand could be seen in the scenes involving the principal characters of the drama, but little of the creative mind evident in his staging of "Troilus and Cressida" was engaged by this unrewarding assignment.

Smith's first settings for this stage were certainly spacious (a high domed glass-roofed conservatory for Act I, a summer house for Act II, a rather unsuccessfully gaudy staircase intruding on a limited playing space in Act III, an atmospheric if gargantuan "boudoir" for Act IV). But they had little relation to the intensity of Verdi's music, its throbbing affinity to fever, rapid pulse, and overwrought emotions. As in rather too many of Rudolf Bing's new productions, a lot of theatrical skills are dissipated through lack of firm agreement that, in operatic production, the needs of the music must be served by the surroundings. not subservient to them. Lots and lots of production? Yes. Lots and lots of "Traviata"? No.

Review 2:


A sumptuous decor and fashion show were provided for the first new staging of "Traviata" since 1935. The glitter was all over the place last night.

Much of that glitter, of course, came from Mme. Tebaldi herself. There was again the magnificent gush of tone to make one overlook the liberties of tempo and dynamics. This was a Violetta irresistible to the eye, ear and heart.

That whole second-act duet between Violetta and Alfredo's father was just about as perfect last night in feeling and phrasing and blend of tone as this colloquy can humanly be. It was Mme. Tebaldi at her best, as it was Leonard Warren at his. This was a gorgeously gowned and regal Violetta, besides-by no stretch of the imagination on the sick list, but a Violetta who through glowing power of voice, grace of gesture and deep expressiveness reached and touched the heart. Mr. Warren's portrayal of the elder Germont was compelling in every sense-masterly in tone and phrasing and utterly persuasive in dramatic force. Giuseppe Campora strove gallantly to keep vocal pace as Alfredo.

The fresh and imaginative settings marked Oliver Smith's Metropolitan debut as stage designer, and the splendid array of clothes showed the lavish hand of Rolf Gérard. Fausto Cleva led with loving, if at times leisurely, control.

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