Monday, January 28, 2013

REVIEW: Verdi's La Traviata (Brussels)

La Monnaie/De Munt (Brussels), Monday December 31

On to the 13th show of my 14 shows in 13 days marathon. A lot has been said already about this production. Even before I went to Brussels, the La Monnaie website has already dedicated a page just to clarify the context of the production and to clarify its stand. It has also invited other directors and THE director (Andrea Breth) to react to the controversies. I have deliberately declined to read these clarifications and stands in hope to find out by myself what were the issues involved. Well, it is not difficult to guess… BUT, even before the performance started, I already knew that I was in for an interesting evening - an announcement was made that Simona Šaturová (Violetta) has lost her voice, but will stay on the stage and mime throughout with the voice of Ana Camelia Stefanescu, who will be standing at the stage left in full view of the audience.
During the prelude to Act One, the stage opened to an ominous container park. One of the containers opened to produce fresh delivery of trembling females struggling against traffickers, but with one exception… Violetta. She stepped out of the container with the aim of being in control. That pretty much set the theme of the whole concept of the production. Gone was the courtesan of the early 18th century; and instead we get the star whore of the gritty underworld of prostitution and drugs painted over with a veneer of glamour and chic.
In Act One, we get a salon with odd pieces of chrome and black leather furniture. At the back was a grand display of prostitutes in an array of lingerie with varying levels of nudity. The “guests” and the “guest relations officers” were in black except for Alfredo who was in grey. What was noticeably missing was the chorus, which was deported to the pit… a sign of a lazy director who tries to fit the opera into his concept rather than the other way around.
In Act Two, Scene One, we saw a loft under renovation. Nothing “controversial” here, except that I think people will find it extraordinary to see that for a moment, there was an erotic tension between Violetta and Giorgio (Scott Hendricks)… they got really close and almost kissing. This brought us to the concept that Alfredo (Sébastien Guèze) was actually a lad in love with the older and more experienced Violetta who is a contemporary to the young-ish dad of Alfredo.
In Act Two Scene Two, once again the chorus was cast away to the pit. The atmosphere was generally decadent with showcases of ladies with naked breasts, smearing wine on men, men kissing each other, a man fondling a little girl and smearing her face with “brown stuff” from a bucket… now whether what was the “brown stuff”, the director gave the audience some clues by showing the man dropping his pants and squatting over the bucket.
In Act Three, the curtain opened to Annina giving Dr. Grenvil a blowjob in a container park, apparently in exchange for him to see Violetta who is now sleeping under a pile of plastic sheets outside a selection of unused containers (why she chose to sleep outside the container was a mystery).
Overall, I am not so sure what was the fuss all about. If this was a production in Hong Kong, I can imagine the shit-storm it would have created, but this was a production in Europe where it is weird if it is not weird! For me, it was by far more head-scratching than being shocked or insulted. In fact, I just think the production was plain stupid or at most, a result of an ADHD mind.
The most irritating part of the production however was Simona Šaturová inability to mime properly. She acted out the character, but didn’t act out the singing. She made sure that the audience knows that she was not the one producing the lovely sounds. Ana Camelia Stefanescu did an ample job and tried to approximate the sentiments on stage in her voice. Both Germonts did well also in view of the concept. Sébastien Guèze was a youthful and appealing Alfredo; though is some parts, he sounded over stretched. Scott Hendricks as his father didn’t have the usual vocal weight associated with the role, but remained to be believable and pleasant to listen and watch. Adam Fischer conducted with clarity though in some instances, the orchestra had difficulty staying tight.
Overall, it was an interesting evening.
La Traviata
Giuseppe Verdi
04, 07, 09, 11, 13, 15, 18, 21, 23, 27, 29 & 31 December

Creative Team:
Music direction ¦ Ádám Fischer
Director ¦ Andrea Breth
Set design ¦ Martin Zehetgruber
Costumes ¦ Moidele Bickel
Lighting ¦ Alexander Koppelmann
Dramaturgy ¦ Sergio Morabito
Chorus direction ¦ Martino Faggiani

Cast includes:
Violetta Valéry ¦ Simona Šaturová and Ana Camelia Stefanescu 
Flora Bervoix ¦ Salomé Haller
Annina ¦ Carole Wilson
Alfredo Germont ¦ Sébastien Guèze
Giorgio Germont ¦ Scott Hendricks
Gastone ¦ Dietmar Kerschbaum
Barone Douphol ¦ Till Fechner
Marchese d’Obigny ¦ Jean-Luc Ballestra
Dottor Grenvil ¦ Guillaume Antoine
Giuseppe ¦ Gijs Van der Linden
Commissionario ¦ Matthew Zadow
Domestico ¦ Kris Belligh

Orchestra ¦ La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra & Chorus

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