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BWW Review: LA TRAVIATA at Comic Opera Of Berlin - Attractive Cast Flounders in an Idiotic Production of Verdi's Tragic Love Story

BWW Review: LA TRAVIATA at Comic Opera Of Berlin - Attractive Cast Flounders in an Idiotic Production of Verdi's Tragic Love Story Natalya Pavlova is a beautiful young woman who sings with intelligence, a fine legato and some excellent phrasing. Her voice lacks both an Italianate sound and bloom in its upper register, but still, she is a perfectly acceptable Violetta Valéry, supposedly the tragic heroine of Giuseppe Verdi's LA TRAVIATA. As such, she should be the middle-point and "Raison d'être" of this handsome new production at Berlin's Comic Opera (Komische Oper Berlin). Unfortunately, the state of theater in Berlin being what it is, Ms. Pavlova's moment of triumph is undermined and nearly completely usurped by an undeserving interloper -- the third-rate direction and completely idiotic production concept of Nicola Raab. Ms. Pavlova, together with her Alfredo and Giorgio Germont (Ivan Magri, and Giuseppe Altomare, respectively) battle mightily against the inanity of Ms. Raab's direction, unfortunately, to no avail. One must say, that Ms. Raab has achieved what I thought was nearly impossible -- she has drained the passion, drama, and romance out of Verdi's heretofore "indestructible" Masterpiece, and turned it into a lifeless, bloodless exercise in tedium.

Before I continue to excoriate Ms. Raab's incomprehensible crimes against her singers, Giuseppe Verdi and the Comic Opera's audience, musically, there are positive elements in this production that should be noted. The Comic Opera orchestra under the direction of Jordan de Souza gives a solid reading of Verdi's immortal melodies. If Mr. de Souza's tempi were occasionally quick, it only served to lessen the tedium of what was happening on stage. Finally, it was a pleasure to hear both verses of "Ah, forse lui" as well as the Alfredo's cabaletta "O mio rimorso", both of which are traditionally cut.

Of the three leading actors, only Giuseppe Altomare was able to create a fully-realized character. To that end, it appeared he ignored most of Ms. Raab's sledgehammer directorial touches and was simply a human being on stage, making a personal connection with the other characters.

And now an operatic primer for director Nicola Raab.

1) Opera is performed by singers playing human beings. Believe it or not, Maestro Verdi and Mr. Piave created a story populated by real characters, and real situations which has survived and thrived worldwide since 1853. You should trust that these geniuses knew what they were doing. They've given you a great framework. Use it.

2) People live in one time period -- not all of them at once. If Violetta Valéry is a webcam sex girl in modern clothing one moment (a perfectly acceptable, even clever choice), then your production needs to be set in modern times. You can't have an Apple computer and Webcam onstage, and the very next moment, couple them with historic costumes and furniture. It not only is confusing, it just makes it seem that you have no earthly idea of what you are doing.

3) Choristers in an opera are actually there to play characters in a situation. Perhaps you didn't realize this, but choristers in an opera house are highly-trained, intelligent singing actors. They are not "props." They are not "mannequins." They are not in an opera just to carry furniture and stand singing, without moving, looking straight at the conductor. Act One is a party scene, Ms. Raab. No one likes boring, static parties like that -- no one, anywhere. If you were invited to a party, and everyone stood behind furniture, stock still for minutes at a time, you'd leave. That's what your audience wanted to do last night.

BWW Review: LA TRAVIATA at Comic Opera Of Berlin - Attractive Cast Flounders in an Idiotic Production of Verdi's Tragic Love Story

4) Theaters have stage lighting. You should learn to use it. For your performers, it's frustrating to act or sing in the dark. Lighting the back of the stage or the back of someone's head is great, but it would be nice to see their faces, too!! Ms. Raab, your singers are all singing in the dark. It's boring. It's ugly. It flatters no one, serves no dramatic purpose and your audience hates you, because we can't see your singer's expressions.

5) If your set changes are getting laughs, something's wrong. Dropping 5,000 pounds of leaves onto the set may have seemed like a good idea in the cantine, late one night after way too many post-rehearsal beers, but when it happens during the show, it simply looks like Godzilla had too much roughage in his diet and has an unfortunate bowel moment, all over the Comic Opera's stage. You might want to re-think that one.

6) Opera is a singer's medium. Let me repeat, opera is a singer's medium. The audience comes to hear the singers sing, accompanied by an orchestra. To that end, when Violetta is singing "Sempre libera," you don't run a giant projection of "Camille" with Robert Taylor and Greta Garbo, and totally upstage your leading lady while she is singing one of the most difficult arias in the soprano repertoire. You see, in that moment Ms. Raab, it's about Violetta's feelings-- not about you -- trying to show us that you know the "Camille" is the same basic story as "La Traviata." We don't care that it's the same story. It's irrelevant at that moment, and disrespectful to your hard-working soprano. When your Alfredo is singing "Dei miei bollenti spiriti", there is no need to distract the audience by having someone clean the windows behind him. It's a declaration of love, get it?? It's not about clean windows. Because you don't trust either the music, the lyrics or your singers, you continually try to distract your audience from the very thing they are coming to do-- hear the singers sing their hearts out. The audience knows its job. You should learn yours.

Photo credit: Iko Freese for Reproduced with permission.

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