Verdi, La traviata: Soloists, Staatsopernchor, Staatskapelle Berlin/Domingo Hindoyan (conductor), Schiller Theatre, Berlin, 20.9.2014 (MC)
Violetta Valéry: Evelin Novak
Flora Bervoix: Katharina Kammerloher
Annina: Annika Schlicht
Alfredo Germont: Ivan Magri
Giorgio Germont: Alfredo Daza
Gaston: Stephen Chambers
Baron Douphol: Maximilian Krumenn
Marquis D’Obigny: Girigory Shkarupa
Dr. Grenvil: Jan Martiník
Giuseppe: Frank Szafranski
Flora’s servant/Commissioner: Thomas Neubauer
Director: Peter Mussbach
Set design: Erich Wonder
Costume design: Andrea Schmidt-Futterer
Lighting: Franz Peter David
Video: Stefan Runge/Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck
Choir trainer: Martin Wright
Whilst the State Opera House on Unter den Linden is being renovated, the Berlin State Opera company and the Staatskapelle Berlin are still housed in the attractive surroundings of the Schiller Theatre. Over the last few years I have come to feel comfortable attending productions at the Schiller Theatre and I took my seat with high expectations for Verdi’s eternally popular La traviata.
What hits you immediately about this production under director Peter Mussbach is the bewildering set. The whole of the front of the stage (the proscenium arch) including the orchestra pit had been covered by a hessian-like fabric upon which video images, mainly lines, were shot across. I thought initially this fabric would be in place for a short time and would be later removed; but no such luck. Sadly it was securely fixed. Consequently the audience had to watch the opera through what is in effect sacking which served to reduce the clarity of the view, leaving me straining to see; my eyes soon tired. Why any director would wish to partially obscure the scene is quite beyond me. Apart from a gathered curtain at the rear and a single wooden chair the stage was as bare as I have ever seen; maybe that was the reason for the obscuring. Oh, I almost forgot there were two gangplanks fixed from the front of the stage into the orchestra pit to allow singers to egress from the stage. It’s a shame the dark and dismal monochrome set design was so unfriendly as the acting and singing, although uneven, was reasonably satisfying with a few welcome highlights.
Dressed throughout in what looked like a white wedding dress Violetta Valéry the renowned courtesan was played by the Croatian soprano Evelin Novak whose bright voice was unsteady early on but did improve. Projecting well and containing decent diction her voice rather grew on me although I never found it entirely attractive owing to a lack of fluidity and slight shrieking at the high notes when at full tilt. With regard to Novak’s acting as I sit writing this report a few days after the performance I’m still unsure how to judge it as she seemed to literally spend most of her time lying, kneeling or falling to the floor. Curiously in those minority moments when not lying on the floor Novak was lurching or staggering about the stage, as if intoxicated or drugged and occasionally cavorting on the solitary chair.
What saved the production from disaster was the singing and acting of Ivan Magri as Alfredo Germont and Alfredo Daza as his brother Giorgio, undoubtedly the stand out performers. Dressed in black suiting Magri with his long and flowing dark hair came across more like a dashing Spanish matador than Verdi’s young French nobleman. Blessed with heart-throb looks Magri’s attractive voice, fluidly forceful, did strain a touch at the high notes but made a fine overall impression with his singing and acting. Shining like a beacon through the dismal staging was Mexican born rock steady baritone Alfredo Daza as Giorgio Germont. At times gloriously moving Daza, with his distinct tone of dark foreboding, displayed such ease of projection.
The supporting cast gave perfectly acceptable performances without any individual standing out. Full credit to the splendid chorus in dramatic and precise voice all evening even if they had to endure being dressed like ghouls with long dark coats, ashen faced and wearing black Lone Ranger masks under dark mesh moods which felt like something dreamed up for the fourth form school play. In the orchestra pit conductor Domingo Hindoyan and the Staatskapelle Berlin did everything asked of them.