BWW Review: Chemistry Galore from Yoncheva and Fabiano in Met's TRAVIATA
Don't ever underestimate the importance of chemistry when it comes to pulling off an opera performance--and there was animal magnetism galore in the Met's revival of its Willy Decker production of Verdi's LA TRAVIATA. From the moment tenor Michael Fabiano came on stage, at Friday's performance of LA TRAVIATA at the Met, everyone perked up--even the evening's Violetta, Sonya Yoncheva, who had already been giving a strong performance as Verdi's "Lost One," suddenly seemed to have a gleam in her eye that wasn't present before.
Yoncheva is a soprano on the rise--though it seems to be taking longer for New York audiences to embrace her than those in London or Paris--and her Violetta is the cream of her roles here. In the past, I had mixed feelings about the Decker production, sets and costumes by Wolfgang Gussman, lighting by Hans Toelstede, with its Ingmar Bergman-esque spectre of death hovering over the action. But I forgot my quibbles once I heard Yoncheva's portrayal two years ago, because she was so powerful in this role. Whether playing the party girl, the smitten lover or the dying tubercular, the Bulgarian soprano has Violetta--and the audience--in the palm of her hand and even when the director has taken away some of the usual props in the Violetta "toolbox." For example, her death scene and the gorgeous aria, "Addio al passato," are done wandering around the stage rather than in bed; in her hands, they still have a devastating effect.
As Alfredo, tenor Fabiano was a more worldly version of a character who is sometimes portrayed as so goo-goo-eyed over Violetta that you can't quite imagine what she sees in him. Here, they are more of a match, particularly in Act II, where they get to frolic around in bedroom of her country place and mistakenly think that their life together will be full-steam-ahead. His full-voiced, amorous portrayal works perfectly in most respects--his aria of happiness with Violetta, "Dei miei bollenti spiriti" was wonderful--though I occasionally wished there were more modulation in his volume. This was a hot-blooded Alfredo: When his father, Giorgio, slapped him, it seemed surprising that he didn't fight back (though it would, of course, have been out of character) and when he lashed out at Violetta, still not understanding why she has thrown him over, he was terrifying as he flung money at her.
A last minute substitution, baritone Nelson Martinez was another large-voiced, passionate singer, as Alfredo's father (though his Gestapo-like entrance, bursting into Violetta's salon, could have been toned down a bit). He did quite well in convincing Violetta to give up Alfredo for the sake of his daughter ("Pura siccome un angelo" ["Pure like an angel"])--whose future would be ruined by having a fallen woman in the family--and as the repentant who comes to ask Violetta for forgiveness. (Unfortunately, too little too late.)
The concept of the director--where Violetta lives dominated by men, with chorus, male and female, in dark suits--homogenizes the other characters for me, making them basically undistinguishable from one another. Nevertheless, the great Met chorus takes up the challenge quite well. (And Athol Farmer's choreography is well-integrated into the action.) Under Nicola Luisotti, the Met orchestra was also in fine form, in a beautifully colored reading of the sumptuous score.
As mentioned earlier, LA TRAVIATA translates as "The Lost One"-but the only losers here are those who miss this cast at the Met.
The Saturday, March 11 matinee performance of La Traviata will be transmitted worldwide as part of the Met's Live in HD series, which is now seen in more than 2,000 movie theaters in 71 countries around the world.
Additional performances: March 7, 11mat, 14, 18, 22, 25, 29; April 1, 4, 8mat, 11, 14. Curtain times vary: complete schedule here.
Running time: 2 hours and 33 minutes, one intermission.
Tickets begin at $25; for prices, more information, or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or visiting www.metopera.org/groups.
Same-day $25 rush tickets for all performances of La Traviata are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the Met's Web site. Tickets will go on sale for performances Monday-Friday at noon, matinees four hours before curtain, and Saturday evenings at 2pm. For more information on rush tickets, click here.