[Met Performance] CID:263910

New Production

La Traviata
Metropolitan Opera House, Tue, March 17, 1981

La Traviata (661)
Giuseppe Verdi | Francesco Maria Piave
Ileana Cotrubas

Plácido Domingo

Cornell MacNeil

Ariel Bybee

Dana Talley

Baron Douphol
John Darrenkamp

Marquis D'Obigny
Julien Robbins

Dr. Grenvil
William Fleck

Geraldine Decker

John Hanriot

Donald Peck

Naomi Marritt

Jack Hertzog

James Levine

Colin Graham

Tanya Moiseiwitsch

Lighting Designer
Gil Wechsler

Zachary Solov

La Traviata received seventeen performances this season.

Production a gift of Mrs. Donald D. Harrington

Review 1:

Review of Martin Mayer in opera

The Metropolitan Opera's new production of "La Traviata" (March 17) takes a step backwards into conventionality - which is all right, I suppose, considering where the steps forward have been leading us lately. John Dexter appears to have had more ambitious plans for this production; the problem was that nobody liked them, including some of the singers, it is rumoured. Having commissioned sets and costumes, Mr. Dexter turned the direction of the opera over to Colin Graham. Unfortunately, Mr. Graham did not like the sets and costumes - he had the third-act set rebuilt because the planned circular staircase did not provide the entrance he wanted for Giorgio Germont - and his distaste for what he found probably contributed to the "I've-somehow-got-to-get through-this" atmosphere that plagued the performance.

This is not to say that the evening lacked virtues. To begin with, it was James Levine's first crack at this masterpiece, which meant that we have again had a chance to hear the formative stages of an interpretation of a great opera by a great conductor. I mean that. In another year or two, Mr. Levine will have found a consistency of conception that will be his personal tribute and contribution to Verdi's genius, and like his "Otello" and "Don Carlos" (both quite rough in their first year) his "Traviata" will be a major and memorable statement of the score - one quite impossible to break into its component parts. Those who heard it this season, including the large Eurovision audience to which the Saturday matinee performance on March 28 was televised live, will have at least a recollection of how Mr. Levine's interpretation was put together.

Mr. Levine has taken the first scene of the second act as the fulcrum of the work, concentrating his fire and his always musical flexibility on the long duet between Germont and Violetta. From "Pura siccome un angelo" to the end, Mr. Levine's tempos are slightly slower than usual (following a first act which is slightly faster), and no repeated phrase is taken precisely as it was sung the first time. Cornell MacNeil's wooden and hollow-voiced Germont, often only approximate in pitch, inevitably kept the flow of the duet from being as seamless as Mr. Levine had planned, but he deserves credit for trying; and Ileana Cotrubas (Violetta), not a notably pliant artist, deserves even greater credit for succeeding. Her reward was an exquisite third act, with its own flowing duets more exactly suited to her voice and with the honeyed sounds of Placido Domingo's Alfredo to partner her.

Mr. Levine's problems came in the party scenes, perfunctorily conceived and rattled through. Miss Cotrubas, whose Violetta is dying from the word go, did not give him much help, and neither did the Met chorus, which has slid back this season to its tentative tone-production of earlier years. Incidentally, someone apparently insisted that the younger and prettier choristers be recruited for the demi-monde, which would have helped the plausibility of the first act if Mr. Graham had not suffered from what one wag unkindly described as a thoroughly English notion of the improprieties of a French whorehouse. But this left us with a remarkably antiquated crew of gypsies in the second act, so what we gained on the swings we lost on the roundabouts.

Mr. Graham made several minor mistakes in his staging. Violetta should surely not pluck a red camellia to give to Alfredo if she is inviting him back the next day: the white flower is required. And the choristers certainly should not peep through the curtains to observe the lovers towards the end of their duet - their return to the gaming room in the second act does not need to be explained or foreshadowed. Germont pére should not stand as a placid observer of the entire scene in which Alfredo insults Violetta, intervening only when it is too late - and I doubt if he would have been admitted to this fashionable salon in the grey suit he had worn in the country. (At least, the footman would have insisted on consulting Flora, which would have given the game away.) To precede Alfredo's "Brindisi" with the spectacle of drunken aristocracy chasing the girls makes the song libidinous in ways Verdi did not intend.

For the rest, Mr. Domingo sang beautifully, though he suffered two tiny memory lapses: but he moved stiffly, almost stumblingly: there was no ardour in his performance. Miss Cotrubas lacked gaiety vocally as well as dramatically, but she is, as Europeans already know, a distinguished Violetta. Both of the singers in the female comprimario roles - Ariel Bybee as Flora and Geraldine Decker as Annina - made a larger than usual contribution.

The sets by Tanya Moiseiwitseh pushed the action to the front of the stage, always a good idea in this house, and I rather liked the second-act chateau salon, with its French windows [viewing] into the garden. The costumes, which were supposed to set the work in the 19th century, were mostly high camp. In general, I think one would have to say that this "Traviata" improves on the Cecil Beaton version it replaces, but not by much.

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