Music: Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave, after the play La dame aux camélias of Alexandre Dumas II

Recorded live at the Royal Opera House during June of 2009

Director: Richard Eyre

Designer: Bob Crowley

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and Royal Opera Chorus conducted by Antonio Pappano

Violetta: Renée Fleming  Alfredo: Joseph Calleja Giorgio Germont: Thomas Hampson

It has been said that the role of Violetta was created by Verdi for three different sopranos: a lyric coloratura for Act I who can impeccably dispatch all the runs and trills in Sempre libera. For Act II it seems that Verdi had in mind a heftier voice, perhaps the same soprano that would comfortably sing some of the other Verdi “big girl” roles.

The final act finds Violetta in the final stages of – to put it bluntly – pulmonary failure, so that not much lung power is required of the soprano lined up to sing the role of Violetta, other than for the outburst “Gran Dio, morir si giovine!”

All of this goes to say that in Renée Fleming we have the ideal three-in-one soprano, and, for our money, the finest Violetta in the business at the time when, at age fifty she sang the role at Covent Garden.

Everything was there from Ms. Fleming for this performance: vocal flexibility, absolute command of the text, the uncanny ability to color the voice for every possibly different moment: giddily girlish and sexily playful in Act I, simultaneously tough and vulnerable in the encounter with Germont, utterly heartbreaking in the final act. Oh and it certainly does not hurt the performance that Ms. Fleming is gorgeous to look at, lady-like, elegant in bearing… And, finally, what an actress! From the start of the opera we see a woman in love with life and yet cognizant that her days are numbered.

Director Richard Eyre worked well with all three of his principals, drawing unmannered performances from both Joseph Calleja as Alfredo and Thomas Hampson as Giorgio Germont. Unfortunately Calleja is not the ideal Alfredo, his bearing and manner much too gruff and coarse for the part, s when he all but throws Annina out the door. And his singing is good at full volume, deficient in the much needed lyricism for Un di felice and Parigi, o cara.

Thomas Hampson in Traviata and, elsewhere in this collection Simon Keenlyside in Macbeth both seem to be go-to baritones in London for the Verdi roles usually associated with larger, darker, Italianate voices.

Hampson, a fine artist ideally suited to other roles, here seems vocally ill at ease. His Di provenza and the following cabaletta lie uncomfortably high for him, the climactic moments in the duet with Violetta make him resort to wide open, frankly unattractive-sounding vowels in the upper range. His being cast in this crucial role sadly brings down the overall level of the performance.

Antonio Pappano is a solid conductor who here once again draws musical magic from his orchestra, chorus and principals.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS