, 18 January 2008
Rupert Christiansen
Verdi: La traviata, Royal Opera House, 14 January 2008
La traviata: Ecstasy greets a rising star
Rupert Christiansen reviews La traviata at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Although she has already made several appearances at the Royal Opera House, the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko has so far failed to capture the heart of the London audience and earn the superstar status that she enjoys in Europe and the US.

But her performance in this fine revival of La traviata could change all that.

Ecstatically received - admittedly by an audience that seemed bolstered by fans from abroad - it showed her mettle and glamour. Something puritan in me resists the package she offers, but equally there were moments when her sheer bravado sent my spine tingling, and you can't argue with that.

Her Violetta was boldly and warmly sung, with a whole-heartedness that distinguishes her from the more costive Angela Gheorghiu (whose voice is more purely beautiful). She has a glowing top and, despite a tendency to fall under the note, a cleanness of tone that allows her to project firmly.

"Sempre libera" lacked the last degree of brilliance, but she carved a grand path through the noble line of "Amami, Alfredo" and found real poignancy in "Addio del passato".

Overall, however, I was touched, but not moved: her stage personality is that of what Jane Austen would call "a sweet, pretty girl" - not a beauty like Gheorghiu, perhaps, but awfully nice. What she isn't is much of an artist. It's all painted with a broad brush.

She doesn't engage deeply with the text, or phrase with illuminating imagination: listen to the Scotto or Cotrubas recordings to hear the deeper emotional notes. Instead Netrebko radiates a freshness and delight in her own voice.

The curtain call said it all. Others would emerge looking drained, distrait and lost in the tragedy of the role, but Netrebko bounced out all smiles and waves, looking ready to start all over again.

Connoisseurs of Verdian style will have felt that she was outsung by her menfolk. As Alfredo, Jonas Kaufmann (labouring, I guess, under a throat bug that left him a little incapacitated), showed a delicacy and refinement in duet which made Netrebko seem coarse, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky's Germont displayed his flawlessly smooth technique - does the guy ever need to take breath?

Maurizio Benini conducted with flair, though Netrebko went her own way from time to time, and the small parts were all well cast - Sarah Pring made a strong Annina, and Jette Parker Young Artists Kostas Smoriginas and Monika-Evelin Liiv shone briefly as the Marquis d'Obigny and Flora. This was an ensemble that does the Royal Opera great credit.

Richard Eyre's 1994 production must have run up more than 100 performances over the years, but as rehearsed by Patrick Young it still looks splendid. What a pity that the management hasn't succeeded in luring Eyre back since ­- there aren't many directors who can put on a show as good as this.

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