Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata [Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0
- Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: Opera Australia
- Blu-ray Release Date: October 30, 2012
- List Price: $39.99
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La Traviata has been a staple of the Italian repertory since its premiere more than 150 years ago. The well-known story traces the last days of Parisian courtesan Violetta Valery (Emma Matthews) as she is slowly dying from tuberculosis. This Francesca Zambello 2012 Australian production is set outdoors in the Sydney harbor under a truly spectacular Swarowski chandelier, replete with occasional fireworks in the background. Like an increasing number of productions today, this one begins with our heroine already dead and waiting to be carried off by the undertakers.
For grand opera, and there are some pretty hefty party scenes, La Traviata is really a very intimate work with the majority of scenes occupied by only a few singers. Violetta is being pursued by the young Alfredo Germont (Gianluca Terranova) and sees an opportunity for real love at last. However, Alfredo’s father, Giorgio (Jonathan Summers) convinces her that she must give up Alfredo so that Germont’s daughter can be married without any scandal. Ultimately, the lovers are reunited but it is too late as Violetta dies in Alfredo’s arms.
Soprano Matthews has true star quality and, like the chandelier, is the centerpiece of this production. Her partner Terranova has a powerful but frequently effortful delivery with relatively little shading. The elder Germont is solidly handled by veteran baritone Jonathan Summers whose slightly raspy voice is age appropriate (he is 66). Conductor Castles-Onion (one of my favorite showbiz names) keeps things moving right along and given the distance between singers and orchestra manages a well-coordinated production. A doff of the cap to the sound and video engineers who deliver a very attractive product.
This is beautiful watch in every aspect. The backdrop of Sydney, the amazing chandelier, the creative staging, it is all breathtaking and quite different from anything that I have ever seen. When you see Emma Matthews carried away in the chandelier and singing her brains out, it just brings everyone to their feet. The over-the-top couch in Act II is something out of a Las Vegas hotel on steroids. Costumes are 1950-60 modish and quite attractive. Camera angles are in frequent motion drawing viewers into the action. Colors and details are most attractive. The rather prominent head mikes were a little distracting at first but with continued viewing became unobjectionable. The fireworks, previously mentioned, are used quite judiciously: massive explosions in the first act party scene and a single flare at the end, marking Violetta’s passing.
I was truly stunned by the sonic balance given the performance venue. Voices and instruments are nearly perfectly in the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack belying the outdoor setting. The 2-channel version is also quite good.
Brief interviews with director Zambello and costume designer Tess Schofield, a cast gallery, photo shoots with the stars, and some time-lapse photos of opening night and stage construction are about it. There is also some glamour footage of the chandelier with its 3200 light elements.
The Definitive Word
With a veritable raft of treasurable Traviatas already on BD with some of the reigning divas of our times, Renee Fleming (twice), Angela Gheorghiu, and Anna Netrebko, the competition for best in show is quite stiff. Mme Matthews may not be as well known as her rival Violettas but she brings terrific personality to the role, definitely not a shrinking violet this one, and has vocalism galore. The rest of the cast does not rise to this same level of inspiration but there are no supporting performances that are less than adequate. Musical direction favors a brisk pulse, preferable to the occasional languid performances that can make this opera a drag. This Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour production may not capture pride of place among the preceding BDs but for its innovative staging, the incredible backdrop of Sydney at night, great costumes and that splendiferous chandelier, it really deserves to be seen…and heard.
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