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James A. Altena
Fanfare, November 2011

VERDI, G.: Traviata (La) (Royal Opera House, 2009) (NTSC) OA1040D
VERDI, G.: Traviata (La) (Royal Opera House, 2009) (Blu-ray, HD) OABD7076D

…Joseph Calleja is one of the greatest Alfredos ever to record the role…Every time he opens his mouth, you simply don’t want him to close it again. He is also an effective actor whose facial expressions, postures, and gestures harmonize with his singing.

…Renée Fleming…is a very good Violetta…

The recorded sound and film quality are quite good, with the quality of the Blu-ray disc only marginally superior to that of the regular DVD; the camerawork is sensible if not exceptional; the costumes are of the period and…attractive and elegant; the ballet sequence at Flora’s party is nicely staged.

…this production is as good as any other and better than most, and is recommended accordingly.

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, August 2011

…Renée Fleming is in fine form… Joseph Calleja turns in a fine effort as Alfredo… the drama runs high. The rest of the cast is also fine…Antonio Pappano…draws finely nuanced playing from the orchestra.

…sumptuous sets and costumes and fine lighting. The camera work throughout is excellent as is the sound reproduction. There really isn’t a flaw in this production—even the dancing in the final scene of Act II is well done and the various choruses throughout the opera are sung with spirit and precision…

Robert Benson, August 2011

VERDI, G.: Traviata (La) (Royal Opera House, 2009) (NTSC) OA1040D
VERDI, G.: Traviata (La) (Royal Opera House, 2009) (Blu-ray, HD) OABD7076D

This is Renée Fleming’s second video of Verdi’s opera…She still manages the coloratura of act one admirably, and is a superb actress. Thomas Hampson is a commanding Germont, and Joseph Calleja impresses as Alfredo although his fast vibrato is not to my taste—I much prefer Rollando Villazón in the 2006 performance. The chorus is superb, and conductor Pappanpo keeps things moving nicely. The Blu-Ray version is stunning visually, with excellent audio as well…

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, July 2011

After Anna Netrebko’s spectacularly sung but quirky and still-interesting Salzburg Eurotrash production a few years ago, I was curious as to how one of my favorite sopranos, Renee Fleming, would do in this role, her first attempt at it. Netrebko definitely comes away as more exciting. Even with the limited and stupid staging of Salzburg—I swear if she ever played Brunhilde she would literally throw herself in the fire for dramatic effect—she comes across as very vulnerable and emotionally fragile, especially at the critical ending. When she says that she feels better before falling dead we really believe her, and momentarily expect her full recovery! But she carries that entire production, such as it is, and ultimately we don’t get a real taste of what La Traviata is really about.

In this version we do. It is set when it is supposed to be set, and the conventions of the time regarding courtesans and their relationship to society—especially high society—are vividly portrayed. Thomas Hampson particularly, in his role as Giorgio, gets to act in a manner that the silly Salzburg production simply did not allow, and I think that consequently his performance is miles better than that one. He has an innate feeling for stage action, and everything he does is just perfect, maybe one of the highlights of his career. Fleming, as mentioned just now coming to this role, lacks the final degree of vocal excitement that Netrebko brings, but hers is a considered and very appropriate interpretation. Violetta really does carry this entire opera, a tour-de-force, almost a concerto for voice that varies greatly depending on which act is being sung, and she has to react dramatically as well. What Fleming neglects in terms of ultimate vocal prowess she adds in terms of spectacularly adept acting. And don’t get me wrong, she is in her late prime and still sounds fantastic. Joseph Calleja as the troubled and almost patsy-like son is every bit Rolando Villazon’s equal from Salzburg, and his dialogues with his father are heart-wrenching.

The entire color-scheme of this production seems coordinated with Fleming’s bright red hair, and the whole is extremely tasteful and beautiful. Even at around 50 Fleming is quite the looker and can easily convince us that she is 20 years younger. The filming is very well done, and puts to shame the same Royal Opera’s version with Solti and Angelina Gheorigiou some years back. The DTS HD surround sound is wonderful, while the Blu-ray visuals are crisp and vivid, nicely capturing the many shades of dark and light that appear in this opera. This is an easy recommendation.

Lawrence Devoe, June 2011

The Performance

Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata (The Fallen One) has been a perennial audience favorite as witnessed by this disc, now its fourth Blu-ray release and the second featuring leading American soprano Renée Fleming. The story is based on Alexandre Dumas’s La Dame aux Camélias whose heroine, Violetta Valéry is a Parisian courtesan. The opera begins with a lavish party during which it becomes clear that Violetta is ill when she meets the younger Alfredo Germont (Joseph Calleja). Their mutual attraction quickly leads to a passionate love affair. However, this relationship hits the skids after Alfredo’s father, the elder Germont (Thomas Hampson), visits Violetta. He convinces her to leave his son so that Alfredo’s sister can marry without a touch of the scandal that has resulted from this liaison. At La Traviata’s conclusion, the lovers are briefly reunited and reconciled only to have Violetta die in Alfredo’s arms.

Now to the vocalism in this BD. Fleming shows her familiarity and comfort with this role, shading the wide range of emotions with her singing, if not her acting. Calleja, a rising star in the opera world, has a gorgeous tenor voice but his interpretation is still a dramatic work in progress. Having Hampson, the reigning American baritone, in the thankless role of Germont pere sounds like luxury casting; however, the Hampson voice of today has a dryish quality and his Italian is noticeably less idiomatic than that of his colleagues. The pacing is nigh unto perfect, thanks to one of the best operatic conductors around, Antonio Pappano, who leads the forces of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in this 2009 video.

Video Quality

This Richard Eyre production premiered in 1994 and will have great appeal for period traditionalists. The sets are gorgeous and the costumes are right off the 19th century runway. Video direction is excellent with a good balance between close ups and broad¸ stage shots. The intimacy between the protagonists is made obvious, the essence of this very personal opera. Those into multimedia will enjoy the balletic scenes from the last half of Act II. Cheers to the lighting designer Jean Kalman who did the previous ROH production with Sir Georg Solti and Angela Georghiu on standard DVD.

Audio Quality

La Traviata can be truly characterized as a singer’s opera as there plenty of moments for the principals to shine. In this respect, the balances are just right. This can be attributed to the sound engineers and the expert support of Pappano and the ROH Orchestra. A few cautionary notes should be sounded to purists. Given the risks of live performance, both Fleming and Calleja avoid the “optional” yet thrilling high notes at the end of their respective arias in the first and second acts. Not a biggie but, personally, I like the high notes. Audience and ambience effects are discretely handled to convey the “live” experience but not to the point of distraction.

Supplemental Materials

As is too often the case, the extras are limited to a gallery of cast photos and an “interview” of Fleming by Pappano. While there are some singer’s insights, I would have liked to have heard from other cast members as well. For those coming to La Traviata for the first time, this is short shrift.

The Definitive Word


The competition among the Blu-ray Traviatas is stiff and this disc generally acquits itself well.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2011

Filmed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2009, we have an elegant production of Verdi’s La Traviata with an all-star cast led by Renee Fleming. Richard Eyre’s 1994 staging is, in every sense of the word, traditional, with opulent sets, fabulous period dress, the story emerging with credible reality. Opening in the midst of a party in Violetta Valery’s house after her recovery from illness, she learns of the infatuation of Alfredo Germont and responds favourably to his approaches. They set up home in an idyllic country house, but Alfredo’s father arrives with the request that she ends her relationship with his son, as a family connection with her colourful past would be so unseemly that it could jeopardize his daughter’s impending marriage. Violetta agrees and returns to Paris leaving a parting letter for Alfredo. They meet again some time later in a friends house and in a confrontation he flings his winnings from the gaming table at her feet as payment for the time she spent with him. Months have passed since they first met, Violetta’s illness returns, but this time fatally. Now finding out from his father the truth of their separation, Alfredo returns only for Violetta to die in his arms. Vocally the leading role is both long and challenging, but it is visually difficult in moving from vivacity to death within the short length of the opera. Fleming brings everything off with great style and vocal security, her facial beauty and underlying fragility being ideal. The famous arias are taken as showpieces, but she avoids bringing maudlin sentimentality to the letter reading in the final act. With a fast vibrato Joseph Calleja has the once much loved quality Italian tenors enjoyed, while his liquid quality allows long phrases with effortless projection. Thomas Hampson was a fine father, and the remaining cast is exemplary. Antonio Pappano conducts; the Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra are in fine form, and Rhodri Huw’s film direction is a well-judged mix of spotlighting soloists with the need to keep the whole stage every present. In Blu-ray the colours and clarity are stunning…

Jeffrey Kauffman, May 2011

The two titans of Italian opera, Puccini and Verdi, rarely did anything small. Big emotions, big melodies, big everything. And so sometimes the very mammoth nature of their operas tends to obscure the more delicate nuances, despite game efforts by directors and cast. Experience seems to be one of the most helpful attributes in being able to navigate the gargantuan aspects of these pieces while losing none of the finesse required. Thankfully this June 2009 Royal Opera House production of one of Giuseppe Verdi’s crowning glories, La Traviata, is abounding in experience both on stage and behind the scenes. Director Richard Eyre’s mounting of the opera first debuted in November 1994 and has been resurrected several times in the intervening years, meaning the Royal Opera House as well as its production crew probably know the ins and outs of the actual physical side of things as well as could reasonably be expected. Better yet, Eyre himself returned to help guide this outing, helping to keep his original vision intact. And while conductor Antonio Pappano’s relative inexperience with this score might initially give some people pause, his long history conducting acclaimed performances and recordings of other Verdi works made him at least aware of the challenges which were in store for him. Most impressively, though, we have something of a “dream team” in terms of casting in this production, including the luminous Renée Fleming as Violetta, a role she has played and recorded to incredible acclaim previously (including on a UK Decca Blu-ray), and two stout voiced males in the supporting roles, Joseph Calleja as Alfredo and Thomas Hampson as Giorgio. We’ve had other Traviatas on Blu-ray, but there’s little doubt that this production immediately and inarguably jumps to the head of the pack, both in its sumptuous productions values as well as its acting and singing.

Acting in operas has always been a bit of a bugaboo. Too often great singers are simply too indicative in their performances, as if (somewhat ironically) they were performing in a silent film where even the smallest moment needed to be overplayed. A piece as inherently heartbreaking as La Traviata needs competent (and perhaps more than merely competent) actors to bring its devastating emotion alive. Too often productions sacrifice La Traviata’s innate emotionalism for glitz and glamour, forsaking what really sets the opera apart from others of its era for mere production values. What is so bracing about Eyre’s approach is that he is able to do both—he give the viewer an absolutely glorious physical production which ably recreates a somewhat decadent Paris, while also providing us the depth and heartfelt passion which needs to be at the core of this piece.

The Royal Opera House has been getting more and more outré in the past few years, trying experimental pieces that may be laudatory in terms of trying to push the envelope, but which have repeatedly failed to connect with audiences. You might fault the management for sticking with a proven crowd pleaser in this production of La Traviata, but it actually seems moot and downright curmudgeonly when one is given such a stellar reading of one of the prime masterpieces of the genre. Modernists may decry the unapologetic traditionalism of this Traviata, but Eyre’s unflinching eye for era and attitude is what makes this production so effortlessly thrilling.

Some great singers start to show the “cracks” in their instrument as they arrive at middle age (and beyond), but against all odds, Fleming only seems to get better with age, like a fine wine. Her midrange is so incredibly expressive now it can melt even the coldest heart, and her transitions from chest to head voice are handled impeccably well. But the singing is almost a given when dealing with an artist of Fleming’s stature. What is so amazing about her Violetta is her acting. This is one of the most well rounded Violettas in recent memory, with a completely devastating finale that should shake even the most jaded viewer to their cores.

Calleja is a beautifully heroic sounding Alfredo, singing with a depth and assuredness that belies his relative youth. His soaring tenor is clear and beautifully colored. Hampson is a marvel as Giorgio, deeply burnished and once again, like Fleming, offering a real performance that sees shadings of character and subtle changes in attitude and motivation that are usually not part of this role. The supporting cast and ensemble are also excellent, with nary a false note (no pun intended).

Just as formidable as the onstage talent is the conducting of Antonio Pappano. Verdi was never content to provide “mere” accompaniment in his orchestral underpinnings of his vocal music, and La Traviata requires a conductor who can extract appropriate color and nuance to make the conversational interplay between the instrumental and vocal elements of the opera come alive. Pappano’s reading of the score is phenomenally robust while at the same time tender and very carefully articulated. The Royal Opera House Orchestra seems to be relieved in a way to be returning to the glorious tonal world of Verdi after several more modern, dissonant scores in seasons past. Their playing is lustrous and palpably sincere.

For those of us who frequently look askance at modernist revisions of classic pieces, it’s a joy to be able to see something this unapologetically traditional, while at the same time perhaps even exulting that that very traditionalism is what makes the production so amazing. It may be a case of “I told you so,” but not every classic piece has to be reinvented at the Arctic Circle with sharkskin suits to somehow make it relevant to modern audiences. All that’s needed is a clear directorial vision, brilliant performers and a conductor who is in tune both figuratively and literally with the composer’s intents. Luckily, all of those elements, and more, are firmly on display in this absolutely ravishing La Traviata.

Video Quality

La Traviata’s Blu-ray presentation is encoded via AVC in 1080i and 1.78:1. This production goes through a number of color palettes as it makes its way through the acts, and they are all represented here beautifully. The opening, which consists of huge projections of childhood photos of Violetta is in a dark and rich blue hue, which then gives way to a sort of amber-orange as we make our way into Violetta’s party. Later as Violetta must confront Giorgio, we’re in a room of cool blues and grays. Even later the club scene is awash in deeply burnished oranges are reds. Throughout all of these many changes, the Blu-ray displays excellent range and saturation. Black levels are really excellent and shadow detail is also very, very good. The play between lighter and darker hues is especially noteworthy in the final scene, as huge louvres in the set design cast a grilled pattern of sorts across the proceedings. The image can be a bit soft at times, especially in the midrange shots which were probably taken from a second balcony, but otherwise this is a solid presentation.

Audio Quality

La Traviata features two lossless audio options, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and an LPCM 2.0 stereo fold down. Both of these options are gorgeously, featuring crystal clear fidelity and a warm overall sound. Unfortunately things get off to just the slightest bit of a rocky start, as a “thump, thump” sound can be heard repeatedly (perhaps from the audience?) as the quiet chorale prelude begins. There is very slight occasional audience sound to be heard from time to time, something rather unusual in these Royal Opera House productions. In terms of the music and the soundtracks themselves, things are absolutely spot on. While the soundfield is fairly narrow, surround channels are filled with a pleasant and natural sounding hall ambience as well as the orchestra, which sounds luscious and well balanced. Balance between the singers and the orchestra is also artfully handled, and the DTS track easily handles all frequency ranges from Fleming’s highest notes to the redolent bass of Hampson.

Special Features and Extras

  • Antonio Poppano Interviews Renée Fleming (1080i; 21:21) is a really interesting and thoughtful featurette which has the two discussing the demands of the role of Violetta, and how many people have stated it actually takes three completely different sopranos to fully realize the role: a first act coloratura (with an insanely difficult first aria), a dramatic approach for the second act, and then a lyrical and fragile manner in the final act. Fleming and Poppano are both down to earth and wonderful to listen to in this really excellent supplement.
  • Cast Gallery (1080i; 00:47)

Overall Score and Recommendation

The only other American Blu-ray release of La Traviata was a sumptuous and filmic production, but it suffered from less than adequate acting and especially singing. This outing is decidedly more theatrical, but it is just as glorious and the performances and singing are simply stellar. Fleming, despite her protestations that she’s “only” done this role for five or so years, is at the height of her interpretative and technical powers in the role of Violetta, and this performance will be a new benchmark by which others are measured. The entire production glistens with nuance and intensity. Highly recommended.

Opera Britannia, May 2011

VERDI, G.: Traviata (La) (Royal Opera House, 2009) (NTSC) OA1040D
VERDI, G.: Traviata (La) (Royal Opera House, 2009) (Blu-ray, HD) OABD7076D

When Richard Eyre’s production of La traviata was first unveiled at Covent Garden in December 1994, the BBC schedules were hastily cleared to allow one of the next performances to be broadcast live. It was the first time that Georg Solti had conducted the opera but, even more importantly, it shot to fame a certain Romanian soprano by the name of Angela Gheorghiu, who fitted the role of Violetta Valéry like a glove. A star was born and the resulting DVD has been a mainstay of my collection. The production has been a vehicle for any number of sopranos since, including Renée Fleming in the summer of 2009. No need to wait for BBC cameras this time: the Royal Opera House has its own hi-definition equipment and, through Opus Arte, the means to distribute its performances to a wider audience. But how does this performance stack up against the original on Decca?

Bob Crowley’s designs remain impressive, from the opulence of the party scenes (the gambling table set usually draws applause from audiences, but not so here) to the faded elegance of Violetta’s country retreat. Eyre is back to direct, drawing performances from his singers in which every action and reaction is finely drawn. The conductor on this occasion is Antonio Pappano, who has a marvellous affinity with Verdi (more so than Solti, although he was in mellow, autumnal mood by this time, allowing the music to breathe more than in some of his more hard-driven efforts in other operas). Pappano’s orchestra is entirely in sympathy with his singers, the quality of the string playing in the preludes tender, yet not without tension. All of which leaves us with the singers—a stellar trio in the operatic firmament occupying the main roles, although one or two doubts gnawed away at me, at least initially.

Renée Fleming waited a long time before tackling the role of Violetta (Houston in 2003) and with good reason. She acknowledges the difficulties in tackling the role in an admirably honest interview with on the DVD ‘extras’. The vocal challenges of Act I seem to be uppermost in her mind here, and I found her somewhat restrained in the Brindisi, as if holding herself in reserve and her coloratura was a touch deliberate later on, lacking the sense of sheer abandon in ‘Sempre libera’ which Gheorghiu expresses so well. Throughout the act, one was conscious of her exaggeration of key moments, almost drawing attention to her art, particularly the moments where she strays from the vocal line for dramatic effect—the teasing of the Baron, the ‘laughter’ in the coloratura. Fleming’s good, she’s very good, but she needn’t telegraph those inflections so much and I started to wonder if this interpretation would bear repeated viewing. It seems a very ‘calculated’ performance, verging on being mannered, though doubtless the camera highlights this more than from a distance in the House. My reservations vanished come Act II, however, and I wondered why.

She’s certainly more at home vocally, particularly in the central scene with Thomas Hampson as Germont père; her voice opens out more, gains warmth and blossoms. Her acting seems much more natural as she became totally enveloped in the role, so much so that one forgets the ‘acting’ and becomes more involved in the drama as a result. The duet was superlatively done, with wonderful singing; ‘Dite alla giovine’ is a vocal and dramatic highlight, with gloriously spun legato from both singers. Ultimately, I concluded that Violetta is, herself, putting on a performance in Act I, both in front of her guests and even trying to kid herself in ‘Sempre libera’, whereas from Act II, we see the real Violetta—I certainly found this in Fleming’s portrayal; the dignity with which she holds herself in the confrontation with Germont; the restraint in the face of Alfredo’s abusive behaviour; her ‘rage against the dying of the light’ in Act III are all deeply affecting, the bleached quality of her voice in the final act quite remarkable.

The role of Giorgio Germont finds Thomas Hampson is at his most persuasive in Verdi. His acting is most convincing as the buttoned-up father, even in little details such as when Violetta clings to his hand, he is deeply uncomfortable at such physical contact and tries to withdraw. In fine form vocally, Hampson sang ‘Di Provenza’ exquisitely, a real highlight, while his anger and sense of outrage are palpable. He and Fleming make a great team and their scene together almost eclipses Netrebko and Hvorostovksy a year earlier.

I confess to having a problem appreciating Joseph Calleja’s tenor; it has an attractive timbre but there’s too much fast vibrato for my liking and it marred my enjoyment of his performance. Calleja uses his voice most intelligently, however, and his acting is a good deal more convincing than his earlier appearances at Covent Garden, his reactions to his father’s lecture were telling. As the performance went on, the ear grew accustomed to the flutter. Frank Lopardo, Solti’s Alfredo, has a more baritonal timbre and lacks Calleja’s brighter tone.

Eyre’s direction is sensitive. The importance of religion to Violetta is something I hadn’t appreciated before. Eyre has her cross herself before composing her letter to Alfredo, and we also get the second verse of ‘Addio del passato’, including the line about no cross marking her grave, as she knocks her cross to the floor in stretching for it. My abiding memory of the 1994 performance was the moment when Violetta declares ‘Amami, Alfredo’, Gheorghiu strewing camellias before him; Eyre has Fleming already in his embrace by this point and it doesn’t strike home as tellingly.

A couple of things in the direction niggled. When Alfredo creeps up on Violetta whilst she’s writing her letter, he’s there long enough to be able to read it over her shoulder! Also, when Alfredo is finally delivered the letter, it’s on a sheet of paper half the size of the piece on which Violetta had started it—what in film terms might be classed a ‘continuity error’! I could also have done without the daft ‘lap of honour’ which sees her pronounced dead before she’s completed it (Netrebko didn’t attempt it in the performance I saw, her death a good deal more moving as a result).

The smaller roles are all excellently taken; there’s a concerned, feisty Annina from Sarah Pring (who’s tended a number of Violettas over the years) and Richard Wiegold makes a sympathetic Doctor Grenvil. Kostas Smoriginas smoulders as the Marquis d’Obigny, sparring with Monika-Evelin Liiv’s lively Flora. Eddie Wade (himself a very good Germont for WNO last season) makes much of the role of Baron Douphol.

Gheorghiu’s interpretation remains essential viewing, but Fleming’s performance is almost as affecting, her support cast arguably stronger. It’s always interesting to see how different singers interpret roles in a famous production; with three further revivals at Covent Garden next season, with four Violettas, further comparisons are invited. Picture quality and surround sound are, needless to report, up to Opus Arte’s usual high standard. Fleming and Pappano are well used to appearing before the camera and their interview makes for an interesting extra feature where they discuss the role and Fleming articulates her ideas about legato in a fascinating exchange. Recommended.

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