25 March 2007

Angela Gheorghiu is Violetta

Verdi LA TRAVIATA, Met 24.III.2007; c. Armiliato; Gheorghiu, Kaufmann, Croft.

La Gheorghiu drops by New York for a single Traviata this season, to deliver perhaps most complete Violetta she can ever offer, vocally and dramatically, exceeding any of her performances at the Met last season without debate. Confetti greeted her final curtain call, and the entire house was in a delirious ecstacy. Her voice, scintillating and ablaze, was in that elusive zone, able to do whatever she wished, the pathetic diminuendos, the overwrought crescendos, the lachrymose shading, ravishing fermata, resonant chest, and a complete command of dynamics. People who reflexively complain about matters of size (and I can count myself among them) ought to have been there last night: she twirled all across the vast Zeffirelli in midphrase, and at times faced away from the audience (lost in the drama of the intense duets), but her sound remained entirely present, remarkably without any discernible loss in volume. Her supple and multitextured voice, a well-known quantity, was elevated to newer heights in this performance because there were just no technical issues to overcome. This single evening, the voice was showroom brilliant, Violetta its brand name.

The voice in such a miraculous state gave her the confidence to throw herself in the drama entirely. From tip to tip: that delirious gaze, some tubercular coughing (so masterfully integrated into Violetta's lines), the halted breathing of falling in love, the physical pain of separation, gasps that break the line, the final break of death. Perhaps the lack of a real rehearsal, the awareness that this was only one night, and the absence of the level of pressure that attended her Violettas last year (the presence of critics; the first performances in New York of the role she's built a reputation on; Volpe's suspicious eye; the added risk of a radio broadcast) gave her license to do as she wished. And that she did, altering the standard blocking and stage direction to build a more organic and spontaneous setting. She moved instinctively, possessed, in a kind of trance that we won't ever see in hypercalculated performances of our hypermanaged divas today. Both her co-stars, Jonas Kaufmann and Dwayne Croft, exceeded themselves vocally and dramatically, feeding off her formidable animus. Kudos to Maestro Marco Armiliato, who kept the orchestra pit as close to the diva's designs as possible, which is a laudable achievement if the diva thinks tempo is a personal variable that she can manipulate, mid-performance, at will.

Oh La Gheorghiu: a synergistic summation of vocal perfection, dramatic intelligence, and an old-school self-abandonment, that created perhaps the surprise highlight of my Met opera season. Brava, diva! You have conquered utterly. With this singular performance (which may never be matched, ever, even by you), you have ascended to Sieglinde's rarefied pantheon, and henceforth in these Diaries you shall never do wrong.