Spain Verdi: La Traviata, Teatro Real Orchestra and Chorus, Renato Palumbo (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid 28,29 & 30.4.2015 (JMI)
Violeta: Venera Gimadieva/ Ermonela Jaho/Irina Lungu
Alfredo: Teodor Ilincai/Francesco Demuro/Antonio Gandía
Germont: Leo Nucci/Juan Jesús Rodríguez/Ángel Ódena
Flora: Marifé Nogales
Annina: Marta Ubieta
Gastone: Albert Casals
Douphol: César San Martín
Grenvil: Fernando Radó
D’Obigny: Damián del Castillo
Production: Teatro Real in coproduction with Cardiff, Glasgow and Barcelona
Direction: David McVicar (original) Marie Lambert (revival)
Sets and Costumes: Tanya McCallin
Lighting: Jennifer Tipton
Choreography: Andrew George
This David McVicar production of La Traviata is a completely traditional one, with a single set for the entire opera and scene changes marked by different props. Good taste is always present, but there is little novelty here. I would only point out that Alfredo sings his aria to a sleeping Violeta; that he arrives at Flora’s party rather drunk; and finally, that the floor of the stage represents Violeta’s grave. But in general, the staging is basically what one expects from Mr. McVicar.
The musical direction was in the hands of Renato Palumbo, and I have no doubt that he knows the score upside down. In fact, he conducts without a score. I found his conducting somewhat disappointing with some erratic tempos; they were too fast at times, particularly when Leo Nucci was on stage. I don’t know if the orchestra has lost some of its edge or if Renato Palumbo could not get the best out of them, but the sound from the pit was not comparable to what we have heard from this orchestra in the recent past.
The three casts featured impressive interpreters of Violeta, all of whom were generally well-suited in vocal terms. If the choice of the Violetas was positive, it was rather the opposite with regard to the Alfredos: not one of them was convincing. However, the three Germonts stood out.
The first Violeta was played by young Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva, who entered the Traviata line-up following Patrizia Ciofi’s cancellation. Having seen Patrizia Ciofi in Barcelona in October, I think we gained with the change. Ms. Gimadieva has a bright future ahead. Her performance up to “Amami, Alfredo” was totally blameless. Her voice is appealing and very well handled, and she is a superb performer. She fell a bit short in the more dramatic moments, but if she takes care, in a few years she could be a magnificent Violeta. Today, she is almost there.
Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho is a regular performer of Violeta at major opera houses, and she too was persuasive in the part. Her voice is not particularly beautiful in the middle, but it has a dark color that worked well in the second part of the opera. She dominated the stage in this character.
The third Violeta was Moldovan soprano Irina Lungu, whose performance was also impressive. It has been eight years since I first saw her as Violeta. Then she was a young singer of 27, and I was surprised by her artistic maturity. In the intervening years she has become an accomplished stage performer and remains a compelling singer, but she has a vibrato that did not exist then, and her high notes are more acid than before.
Teodor Ilincai was a disappointing Alfredo. It’s the first time I’ve seen him since a Bohème in Barcelona three years ago, and I don’t think that things have evolved happily. They say that an even voice is needed to sing opera. In his case, an attractive voice is his only asset, and it’s not enough. He lacks elegance and expressiveness, and has too many open sounds. His pitch seemed questionable to me on several occasions.
Fancesco Demuro has a pleasing voice in the middle, but he is too light for Alfredo. Some aspects of his singing work well: his phrasing is elegant, and he has a remarkable mastery of breathing. But the size of his voice is rather reduced, and he’s not expressive enough.
Antonio Gandía was a correct Alfredo and vocally suited to the role. His middle range is acceptable, but he gets less interesting at the top and escaped the high C of his cabaletta. He is not a model of expressiveness either.
Leo Nucci was Germont in the first cast, and once again he proved to be a living miracle, especially considering the freshness of his timbre at 73. For me, Germont is not and never has been one of his best roles, and I’ve enjoyed his art more in other characters. If there’s anything I would highlight from his performance besides his vocal freshness, it’s his perfect diction. He shows signs of fatigue in the upper part of the tessitura, but there’s no question that the very rapid tempos of Mr. Palumbo from the pit were Mr. Nucci’s choice.
Juan Jesús Rodríguez interpreted Germont the following day, and he demonstrated an attractive baritone and fine singing. While his performance was satisfying overall, I did find his singing rather monotonous.
In the third cast, Ángel Ódena succeeded as Germont but evinced his usual problems. When he controls his voice, he has no difficulty in making himself heard throughout the auditorium, but when he insists on pushing the decibels, he is unnecessarily rough. In general, he modulated his voice quite well here.
The secondary characters were nicely covered in all cases. In particular, Marifé Nogales was convincing as Flora, although her volume is a bit reduced; and Marta Urbieta as Annina was impressive as well.
Jose M. Irurzun