13 January 2011

Traviata Epic Fail

Verdi LA TRAVIATA, 12.01.11; c. Noseda; Poplavskaya, Polenzani, Dobber.

The sets, supposedly new, squeaked and creaked a number of times throughout the evening, which was distracting, to say the least. But what I really minded was the way Willy Decker managed to strip off the human intimacy in key scenes, all for the sake of "interpretation". The disjuncture between Verdi's era-specific story and Decker's dislocated reimagination is jarring. If his Violetta is this modernish hooker and her parties have many transvestites and their couches are from Ikea, then why the hell does the Germont family even care if the son is cavorting quite happily with some Lindsay Lohan? Surely in this imagined modern plane, morality and shame don't bear as much force as in, say, the socially rigid Zeffirelli universe.

Because of this dissonance, Decker's first scene of Act II, which is the opera's breaking heart, where Verdi wrote his most wrenchingly personal music, was a total failure. I do recall that in the traditional Zeffirelli, Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu, Ruth Ann Swenson, and Hei-Kyung Hong (to name a few) managed to induce a melodrama that left me shamelessly misty-eyed. In the new production, Marina Poplavskaya, during this scene, wanders here and there and up and down and left and right, attempting to fill an otherwise big, empty, brightly-lit sterile void. (Paradoxically, the "big" Zeffirelli production was actually cozier and warmer in Act II, Scene I, than this "spare" Decker; the singers in this current run have been inadvertently miniaturized.)

The other problem with "concept" productions is that you end up expecting to be dazzled and surprised at every turn, so that the opera seems engaging only during special effects moments or dynamic staging (like Robert Lepage's undulating Das Rheingold platform spines) but can quickly become staid and dull when things stop moving or changing. Again, Act II's crucial scene with Violetta and Papa Germont was one casualty, the proverbial drying paint of the evening. Runner up was Act III, the other emotionally packed scene, where Violetta again wanders around, but this time in her bodacious camison, obsessed with Doctor Death. (Yawn.)

More things to say about this; perhaps I'll get to them later this week. Also, a few words need to be added regarding Marina Poplavskaya's uneven but ultimately satisfying portayal and Matthew Polenzani's singular success. But the bottom line on the Decker: an annoying disappointment.