• La Traviata on DVD and Blu-ray

    This article will be for reviews of La Traviata on DVD and blu-ray. Another one for CDs will be created. We'll publish the reviews here as they get written by our staff and members.


    This full review was written by Almaviva:

    La Traviata, opera in three acts (1853), music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave

    Virgin Classics release, April 3, 2012, region-free, co-produced by Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, Arte and BelAir Media
    NTSC, 16:9, good color and definition
    Running time 139 minutes, 1 DVD-9
    Sound formats LPCM Stereo, DTS 5.1 (good quality but I had to turn down the subwoofer volume; too much bass)
    Optional subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian
    Available from Amazon.com, click [here]

    New co-production of Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, Wiener Staatsoper, Opéra de Dijon, and Théâtre de Caen
    London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Louis Langrée
    Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, choir master Mikk Üleoja
    Filmed at the Théâtre de l'Archevêché, live, 2011, film direction Don Kent

    Stage director Jean-François Sivadier
    Settings Alexandre de Dardel
    Costumes Virginie Gervaise
    Lighting Philippe Berthomé


    Violetta Valéry - Natalie Dessay
    Giorgio Germont - Ludovic Tézier
    Alfredo Germont - Charles Castronovo
    Annina - Adelina Scarabelli
    Flora Bervoix - Silvia de La Muela
    Gastone de Letorières - Manuel Nunez Camelino
    Barone Douphol - Kostas Smoriginas


    The ouverture is *very* well rendered by the orchestra, which is not always the case in many of the existing Traviata DVDs, including my favorite (Anna Netrebko's, in Willy Decker's production). Lush, vivid, energetic sound (although a bit much, since the overture is, of course, a very melancholic piece).

    The opening scene is very clever, with Ms. Dessay looking good and showing her acting talent from the very beginning. Settings and costumes are current-day, simple, but what they do with a large blue curtain at the beginning is interesting.

    Very good acting in this production. Alfredo has the physique-du-rôle, and looks like a shy and awkward youngster. The entire opening party scene is very well done with good dynamic use of the space. The orchestra and chorus do well. So far, very satisfactory.

    Unlike her fragile and full of pathos first scene at the Met recently, Ms. Dessay here looks very flirtatious and lively. She is the kind of singing-actress who can impact whatever approach she feels more fitting for each production. Impressive (but expected, we all know how good an actress she is).

    Some reviews have praised Mr. Charles Castronovo's singing as Alfredo. I find it only correct, coming fresh from Mr. Matthew Polenzani's spectacular rendition at the Met. Beautiful lyric tenor voice, but nothing remarkable about it. The problem is that he doesn't "act with his voice" in terms of interpretative phrasing as well as Mr. Polenzani did. Also, his high C cracked in Act II.

    What about Ms. Dessay's voice? Well, it is not what it used to be a few years back. Volume and projection are hard to gauge on DVD but by comparison with the other singers, she does produce a softer sound. This is of course helped by the recording / sound engineering, with a better end-user result than when I heard her at the cavernous Met three weeks ago.

    Agility, her hallmark, is also slightly diminished (although better than when I saw her at the Met and she was recovering from illness - but still less than her meteoric speed that I've seen in the past). But there is no doubt that her voice remains beautiful, and any difficulties are more than compensated by her spectacular acting. Watching a Dessay Violetta in close-ups provided by the DVD medium is a pleasure, with her incredibly well-managed and nuanced facial expressions and body language. Furthermore, this experienced and accomplished artist is intelligent enough to take her performance where she wants it, and she is able to administer quite nicely a voice that is not as brilliant now as it was at her very vocal peak. Anyway, give me Ms. Dessay slightly passed her vocal peak any day, she is still great to see and hear.

    One interesting thing to notice in her Sempre Libera scene: oh my, the lady has very toned biceps. Ms. Dessay must hit the gym quite frequently and is in excellent shape!

    Great, great acting decision: when Alfredo serenades her from outside during Sempre Libera, she mouths silently his words.

    I like the settings for the first scene of the second act - simple panels with a spring scene, blu sky with clouds.

    OK, we get to what generates most complaints about this production: Ludovic Tézier's acting abilities, or rather, lack thereof, with his traditional approach to acting that is as nuanced as the one produced by a fish in a bowl.

    In spite of Verdi's and Piave's spectacular first act, I've always considered the Violetta-Giorgio Germont scene in second act to be the core of this opera, with the most psychological impact, and the pivotal moment of the story. Well, if you get a Giorgio Germont who can't act, no matter how well he sings, it is a problem. And I confess that I'm not even very fond of Mr. Tézier's singing either (it is technically correct but I don't like his timbre), and have never been. So, his presence in this production takes down several notches the overall quality.

    So we get one of the most (or *the* most) gifted acting artist(s) in the current operatic field, alongside with a cold fish. The contrast is simply mind boggling, when Ms. Dessay's Violetta reacts strongly to Mr. Tézier's Giorgio, while the latter keeps bringing down the tension with his nonexistent acting.

    Another positive aspect of this production is that they have included a few stanzas that are often cut from other shows, so I got some nice surprises along the ride.

    The lady doing Flora is great eye candy (Silvia de La Muela - I've seen her before in Lulu with Patricia Petibon).

    Supporting roles in general are OK; nothing remarkable or terrible.

    The main problem - and also main quality - of this production is that Ms. Dessay is so much better than everybody else here! Certainly a regional opera festival in the countryside of France doesn't have the same casting power of the major houses, so what we have here is a star of the first magnitude with some second stringers and unknowns. The orchestra is good, though. Overall this is still a good production, I suppose (I haven't finished watching it yet, may edit this later).

    Very anemic "Di Provenza il mar, il suol" by Tézier. Another major bummer, since this is one of my favorite moments in this opera.

    The two musical reliefs provided by Verdi - the gypsy and the matador scenes - are extremely well done and interesting in this production - including with very beautiful young people (not all of them, but still) with slightly revealing clothes. I liked these scenes a lot (this production is proving to be uneven).

    By the way, in the matter of eye candy, the ladies will like Mr. Kostas Smoriginas as much as I liked Ms. Silvia de La Muela, I guess.

    Ms. Dessay's wig in the second act is not flattering, but her singing and Mr. Castronovo's are more solid in Act II, with proper warming of the voice. The orchestra continues to produce beautiful, lush, resonant sounds - certainly a high point of this show.

    Great opening for the third act, with Annina removing Violetta's outfit, wig, and make-up while the orchestra plays the pungent introduction, and Ms. Dessay switching effortlessly to a sick and despondent figure (what an actress!).

    The letter scene is great, "Addio del passato" is equally good, with Ms. Dessay making good use of the fact that these scenes have a quieter orchestra. A clever staging detail is that while she sings of her pain, a man silently washes out the happy words that characters had written on a wall during the party scenes, and slowly erases the words Violetta and Traviata.

    Scenery is the falling-apart loft kind with some dirt (leaves, flower pieces) on the ground, very low chandeliers, very atmospheric.

    Alfredo's arrival is another powerful scene from the acting standpoint - Mr. Castronovo shows good acting here. This is proving to be a very successful act III.

    It continues rather well. The death scene is magnificent, with her final fall to the ground being slightly delayed.

    The end.

    Certainly this third act went a long way in increasing the desirability of this DVD.

    Overall, recommended, A-. It looked like a B or B+ all along, but when one factors in the great orchestra, Ms. Dessay's fabulous acting and beautiful (although aging) voice, Mr. Castronovo's very decent singing and good acting, some eye candy, and good staging, it does reach A territory, in spite of Mr. Tézier's fishy acting with prevents this from being A+. Funny enough Mr. Tézier seems to have a big following in Aix-en-Provence, drawing lots of applause during the curtain calls. Go figure! Only Ms. Dessay got more applause than him.

    Anyway, a good Traviata. Not essential, but a nice recommended buy (and quite obligatory for Ms. Dessay's fans).


    What follows is a brief review authored by Almaviva:

    La Traviata à Paris - DVD (PAL)

    Yay, I'm all excited.
    I got my region-free PAL/NTSC DVD player, set it up with HDMI - 1080p, my import from Italy arrived in the mail, and I was able to watch parts of La Traviata a Paris with gorgeous image and sound (upscaling worked properly). The doors of the DVD-buying world are wide open for me!

    Now, I'm *very* impressed with the box. Are you Europeans always this good in terms of DVD packaging and inserts, or is this a special edition or something? There is a gorgeous booklet - it's actually a little book with hardcover, the box is all luxurious and all, looks like a chocolate box.

    Then, the production itself. La Traviata is one of my favorite operas and I own several versions of it. None is this good looking. The settings in Paris and Versailles are spectacular, and this filmed version with *perfect* lip-syncing transports you into the story as if the "real" events were happening before your very eyes.

    Talking about eyes, Eteri Gvazava is eye candy. She is almost as beautiful in this production as Anna Netrebko, and also seems skinnier and more frail, thus is a very credible Violetta; one can really believe that she is highly desired by the male characters, and that she is suffering from tuberculosis.

    That's where the similitude ends, sadly. Anna in her 2005 Salzburg Traviata sings some ten times better than Eteri (who has a rather small voice and doesn't risk some high notes), and José Cura while not as bad is no match for Villazón either - and this, not to talk about other spectacular Violettas of the past. So, the singing in this production is really lacking, and it gets a little annoying due to the fact that everything else is so gorgeous - to the point that one wonders why they didn't select a better soprano and a better tenor, since they were spending that much money with all the other production values.

    About the sound track - the balance between orchestra and voices is not ideal. Sometimes one smothers the other. I only tried the dolby stereo sound, not the DTS or the dolby 5.1, so maybe the other tracks are better (my cheap region-free DVD player does have HDMI to connect to the TV, but has no digital sound output to connect to the receiver so I had to rely on the TV speakers).

    In terms of Zubin Mehta's conducting, it isn't bothersome, but I've seen better.

    Still, in spite of the shortcomings above, I feel that having this Traviata at home will be lots of fun, especially when I want to introduce new people to opera. It is a very well made movie. It's better in terms of image than in terms of sound (technical problems with the stereo track, no brilliant conducting, and less than stellar singing are all much less spectacular than the images), but I'd still recommend this DVD for being so incredibly easy on the eyes.


    What follows is a brief review authored by Soave_Fanciulla:

    La Traviata

    Not my favourite Traviata - I dislike the heavy-handed symbolism, and some scenes are terrible: the party at Anina's is just too brutal, those weird bull people shoving Alfredo round and then Alfredo stuffing money down Violetta's dress.

    I feel that it's pretty much sustained by the chemistry between the two leads. Netrebko plays Violetta as a woman past the point of caring, knowing that time is running out, but suddenly allowing herself to fall in love with the callow and inexperienced Alfredo. I think she's wonderful here and I love that dark Russian tinge to her voice. And of course she is at the height of her beauty in the famous Little Red Dress.


    This is Almaviva's response to the above review of the same Netrebko-Villazon-Hampson Traviata in Willy Decker's Salzburg production. It *is* my favorite Traviata on DVD/blu-ray. I don't mind the heavy symbolism of the staging, I actually find it quite good. The curved wall signals her world closing around here; the clock intends to show how little she has left to live, etc. - yes, it is obvious, but it is also effective. The update to modern closes is fine, and in touch with Verdi's desires. The conductor is not that good, but the orchestra is. Anna Netrebko doesn't sing her best Traviata here, due to need for so many acrobatics (she literaly sings upside down). But she still does very well, her acting is good, and she looks absolutely stunny and sexy (this is a much skinnier Anna than in subsequent years). Villazon and Hampson sing very well. I saw this production live with different singers, I love the production, and I love all three singers here (Anna, Rolando, Thomas) so yes, it is my choice Traviata on video.


    Other TRAVIATAs on Video that I know (Almaviva here)

    While it's been a while that I last saw this, I remember finding it satisfactory, without finding it excellent. Ramon Vargas seems a bit unengaged. Angela Gheorghiu is not my favorite actress but she is a good singer with correct technique. This blu-ray is sold for $9 on Amazon.com, so the bargain price alone justifies having it.


    This one has the same Gheorghiu, and has better sets and costumes, and also a better conductor (Solti). The other two singers, though, are less good and make of this DVD overall a poor choice.

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Florestan's Avatar
      Florestan -
      Me thinks that the Fleming/Villazon DVD would top out all these others and perhaps is the best Traviata bar none. Or course I have not seen them all.

      As for the Gheorghiu/Lopardo DVD, it is not as good as Fleming and I sense some hint of amateurishness with Gheorghiu in the acting department, as if she is still somewhat learning the role or perhaps just a tad uneasy, which perhaps makes her appear uncomfortable in the role (prostitute), which would be very uncharacteristic of a seasoned courtesan, yet a very nice performance [sorry, won't win any writing awards with such a string on sentence, but ...] . I think I like this one better on CD because the singing is very nice IMO.

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