Zeffirelli’s La traviata Captivates In Buenos Aires

ArgentinaArgentina Verdi, La traviata: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra. Conductor: Evelino Pidò, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. 19.9.2017. (JSJ)

Ermonela Jaho (Violetta) and Saimur Pirgu (Alfredo) in the Zeffirelli's La Traviata at the Teatro Colón. (Photo Máximo Parpagnoli)
Ermonela Jaho (Violetta) and Saimur Pirgu (Alfredo) in the Zeffirelli’s La traviata
(c) Máximo Parpagnoli

Violetta Valery – Ermonela Jaho
Alfredo Germont – Saimir Pirgu
Giorgio Germont – Fabián Veloz
Gastone – Santiago Burgi
Baron – Gustavo Gibert
Marchese – Alejandro Meerapfel
Doctor – Mariano De Salvo
Flora – María Victoria Gaeta
Annina – Daniela Ratti

Direction – Franco Zeffirelli (revived by Stefano Trespidi)
Sets – Franco Zeffirelli (r. Andrea Miglio)
Costumes – Raimonda Gaetani (r. Anna Biagiotti)
Chorus – Miguel Martínez

We were originally promised Sofia Coppola’s 2016 La traviata from the Rome Opera. But for reason(s) unspecified, but rumoured to be its costs, this was replaced, following the departure of the former artistic director Darío Lopérfido, with an earlier Franco Zeffirelli version from the same house.

As neither have been seen in Argentina, the gain or loss is a moot point and either is effectively a ‘new’ production.

That said the Zeffirelli production, as befits a master of the big screen, is grand in the grandest sense, with rich expansive settings and a style of dress and appearance that firmly sets it in the era contemporary to its conception. i.e. the 1850s. Indeed, in this day and age when one is increasingly inured to the modern and shocking, even for a period production it had an almost dated feel.

As one may expect it was carefully conceived and it was well implemented in this reprisal by Stefano Trespidi, who according to the programme notes has been responsible for several Zeffirelli re-productions, with layers of curtains and areas sufficient to accommodate the large number of participants, particularly in the party scenes.

As one may expect of the most popular operas, the story-line is well known and even today isn’t so far-fetched in broad terms at least – the father who doesn’t approve of his son’s choice of lover and tries to persuade her to break off the relationship to preserve the family name.

With that task completed, normally that would be the end of it. But in this case, as Zeffirelli alludes with a cameo during the overture, Violetta’s days are numbered, which makes the father, Giorgio Germont, come to regret his actions.

All too often père Germont is played almost apologetically but not this portrayal by Fabián Veloz, which opened full of bluster as if one word from him would be sufficient to send Violetta away. Veloz’s bearing was such that he well fitted the role, without appearing too ‘young’, and likewise vocally he brought to it depth and colour.

Saimur Piru, who debuted in Buenos Aires in Mercadante’s I Due Figaro, made for a convincing Alfredo, expressive in voice and action.

As Violetta, Ermonela Jaho – coincidentally or not, a compatriot of Pirgu (both Albanian) – in a role that she has become known for, was a powerful presence, both physically and vocally in her various guises as hostess and lover, and finally alone and dying.

All the smaller roles were well played, and the chorus excelled itself. Evelino Pidò on the podium brought the production together with sensitivity and style.

Two additional points to mention. One was a power failure (apparently attributable to the power company) at the end of Act I on the second performance night, resulting in its cancellation and a later rerun – but more significantly the emergence of the apparent absence of a backup plan within the Colón to deal with such events.

And second the free streaming of the third (Abono Vespertino) performance to a more than 4,000 strong crowd in the adjacent Plaza Vaticano. This was stated to mark the 160th anniversary of the opening, with a production of La traviata, of the ‘antique’ Teatro Colón. That theatre, located (for those who know Buenos Aires) adjacent to Plaza de Mayo near the ‘Pink House’, lasted just 30 years, closing its doors in 1888 mired in debt, to be replaced by the current theatre in 1908.

Jonathan Spencer Jones

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