[Met Performance] CID:208020

New Production

La Traviata
Metropolitan Opera House, Sat, September 24, 1966

La Traviata (498)
Giuseppe Verdi | Francesco Maria Piave
Anna Moffo

Bruno Prevedi

Robert Merrill

Marcia Baldwin

Charles Anthony

Baron Douphol
Ron Bottcher

Marquis D'Obigny
Gene Boucher

Dr. Grenvil
Louis Sgarro

Loretta Di Franco

Lou Marcella

Peter Sliker

Patricia Heyes

Ivan Allen

Howard Sayette

Georges Prêtre

Alfred Lunt

Cecil Beaton

John Butler

La Traviata received twenty-nine performances this season.

Production a gift of the Henry L., and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation, Inc., in memory of the late Colonel Joseph M. Hartfield.

Review 1:

Review of Harold C. Schonberg in The New York Times

Opera: Eccentric Tempos Intrude on Finely Produced "Traviata"

Merrill and Prevedi Are Outstanding

The year is 1854, the locale is Paris. The Lady of the Camellias is giving a party. The setting is sumptuous, as befits the quarters of the most talented courtesan of the day. Crowds of elegantly dressed people mill around. On the sideboard is an assortment of vintage wines. Butlers and footmen take care of the guests. One of them is dressed à l'artiste, and has hair flowing to his shoulders. He is Franz Liszt.

Thus opened the first scene of Verdi's "La Traviata " on Saturday night at the Metropolitan Opera, in Cecil Beaton's new production. And it went on in this vein, with something of a wrench in the last act.

The second act, in Violetta's summer house, was all pastels, with flowers, a rustic house and a background of mountains and valleys. The ballroom scene had a grand staircase only somewhat smaller than the one on the Paris Opera.

But the last act saw Mr. Beaton going symbolic. It was Grand Guignol, inspired by Charles Addams. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, and the very walls seemed rotting away. Everybody got the idea of decay. It was well done, but did not really fit into an otherwise naturalistic presentation.

Alfred Lunt staged the opera. His idea was to show the metamorphosis of Violetta. In the first act he has her dancing giddily, a little tipsy, even a little vulgar. Then love, in the presence of Alfredo, spreads its wings. From that point, Violetta is changed, and the action is pointed toward the deepening of her character.

It is a very fine production, all told, and it went without any hitches. The performance itself was another matter. It had some very good things about it, and also some curiously eccentric goings-on.

A good part of the eccentricity came from the pit. Georges Prêtre conducted, and came up with some ideas that were, to put it mildly, curious. From the [beginning] bars of the Prelude it was clear that this was not going to be a routine "Traviata."

The tempo was extraordinarily slow, and one quickly peeked at the program to make sure the prelude really was that of "Traviata" and not "Lohengrin." But as soon as the fast section came along, Mr. Prêtre took off like a hot rod. Throughout the evening slow sections went slower than ever before, and fast sections faster.

This gave the singers some trouble, all the more in that the conductor seemed more interested in the orchestra than the stage. Often voices were drowned out (the pit of the new Metropolitan Opera is very live, and conductors will have to judge the balances very carefully), and sometimes the ensemble was ragged.

What saved the evening was Mr. Prêtre's undeniable temperament. There was enough fervor to make his conducting interesting, much as one deplored the technical lapses.

Anna Moffo, Bruno Prevedi and Robert Merrill were the principals. The men stole the show. Mr. Merrill sounded like the singer of 10 years ago. The role of the elder Germont was tailored for him, and in the second act he poured out wave after wave of resonant, beautifully focused tone. Mr. Prevedi, young and handsome, used his fresh-sounding voice to fine advantage. He is one of the best lyric tenors around.

Miss Moffo's characterization of Violetta was intelligent but curiously negative. She really does not have enough voice to make her points. When she lets it out, she is apt to be a shade off pitch; nor does she have the easy-going coloratura technique required for "Sempre libera." She is at her best when singing quietly, and the "Dite alla giovine" was the most appealing work she contributed during the evening.

Minor roles were well sung and acted with spirit. A big, engaging production of "La Traviata," in short, and one that is going to get better as everybody concerned becomes more familiar with it, and with the conductor's ideas.

Review 2:

Review signed "Robe" in Variety

La Traviata

The new production of Verdi's "La Traviata" derives from a gift from the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation. Sets and costumes are by Cecil Beaton, staging by Alfred Lunt. Saturday audience dressed and bejeweled. Add an aura of Broadway, possibly because of the Beaton-Lunt combination. With Lunt on hand there was, of course, also Lynn Fontanne and as their guest, Ina Claire. John Huston, in town for "The Bible" was also to be seen.

The audience heard a superlatively sung production of one of the Met's reliable and melodious works. Vocally, Anna Moffo's Violetta, Bruno Prevedi's Alfredo and Robert Merrill's Germont were faultless and both Miss Moffo and Merrill managed dramatic credence. Prevedi, however, is as bad an actor as he is excellent as a singer. What his performance might have been without some token polishing by Lunt is enough to make one shudder. His gestures were, generally, pure Prosciutto and his ability to evoke emotion in the audience non-existent.

Lunt's staging, overall, was disappointing in that the audience was expecting to witness a really new approach to "Traviata." There appeared to be periods of exaggeration followed by too-quiet moments that proved disconcerting. Miss Moffo's paroxysm of coughing early in the first act was so believable that her subsequent dropping any attempt at playing the consumptive when she launched into the "Ah for e lui" and "Sempre libera" was too obvious.

Beaton's costumes were less successful than some past efforts but he did provide Miss Moffo with several stunning gowns, particularly the Act I and III ball gowns. His second act farmhouse seemed more Italian than French but in Act III Flora's villa was sheer opulence and evoked considerable applause with its double staircase and red-gold décor. This act was given a considerable boost by John Butler's choreography of the Spanish dance, introducing some delightful wit into the number.

Musically, conductor Georges Prêtre, his principals and the large cast (particularly Marcia Baldwin as Flora, Gene Boucher as Marquis d'Obigny and Charles Anthony as Gastone) made the evening a triumph over less-than-successful work by Lunt and Beaton. The fault, perhaps, is not that these two gentlemen lack talent, but that they've each set such high standards in their earlier work that anything subsequent must be compared.

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