Financial Times,  January 15 2008
Andrew Clark
Verdi: La traviata, Royal Opera House, 14 January 2008
The Violetta for our time
Once in a generation a prima donna takes ownership of a role in a way none of her peers can do. Anna Netrebko has achieved this as Violetta, and the proof is there for all to see and hear in Covent Garden’s revival of La traviata. Netrebko, who has already triumphed in the part in Vienna and Salzburg, does not redefine or reinvent it. She simply is the Violetta for our age, able to cast her spell over a performance by virtue of “period-perfect” looks, a voice that glides over the many technical and musical hurdles Verdi throws in her path, and a big-night temperament.

In spite of being neither a selfish nor self-serving performer, she does not establish much sexual chemistry with her Alfredo, Jonas Kaufmann, and in the third act she misses what Verdi referred to as “anima” (soul), widely and rightly considered the sine qua non of a true Violetta and a quality possessed by several less obviously endowed interpreters. But Netrebko is otherwise such a package for the role that the entire theatre submits to her spell.

This is relevant not just to her great solo scenas at the end of the first act and the start of the third, but also to her ability to raise the whole temperature and quality of performance going on around her, and the way her pre-eminence puts the stagey opulence of Richard Eyre’s production into proper perspective. This is the interpretation Eyre’s ultra-traditional Traviata has been waiting for, and I doubt whether, since its opening night with Solti and Gheorghiu 13 seasons ago, it has been received with such rapture as it was on Monday. Netrebko’s is an old-fashioned triumph, signalling the power of a singer to enthral by virtue of polish, charisma and professional confidence.

Kaufmann matches the Russian soprano physically if not vocally: he lacks a sufficiently liquid tone and the upper register is not wholly convincing. He will doubtless loosen up as the run proceeds. Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s Germont has already aged nicely – his silver mane cut short, his vocalism distinguished by the sort of line that Verdi’s less-than-convincing cabaletta needs and rarely receives. The comprimarios are good and Maurizio Benini’s thoughtful, sensitive conducting affords much pleasure.


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