San Carlo Theatre, Naples
HK Cultural Centre, Grand Theatre
Reviewed: March 19
The San Carlo Theatre of Naples is one of the world's oldest opera houses, and its production of Verdi's La Traviata was traditional in both its virtues and its flaws.
Grand in scale and distinguished by some magnificent singing, it was over-long and had little of the realism that has revolutionised opera in recent decades.
The second staging of La Traviata seen here in recent months, it was an interesting contrast with the previous by Opera Hong Kong. The local company with its more modest means could not match San Carlo's standard of singing or production value, yet its version was more imaginative and dramatically engaging.
The ace in San Carlo's hand was Carmen Gianattasio as Violetta, the consumptive courtesan who gives up the only man she has ever loved and is reunited with him on her deathbed.
A rising star who has sung leading roles at the Royal Opera in London and the Metropolitan in New York, Gianattasio seems destined to be one of the top sopranos of her generation. Her voice is a superb instrument, and she displayed a mastery of vocal technique from the brilliance of her coloratura runs to her use of pianissimo for emotional moments. She made Violetta's development from cynical pleasure-seeker to woman in love totally convincing, and her death scene was powerful.
Simone Piazzola, with a deep, resonant bass-baritone voice and strong stage presence, shone as the hero's father Giorgio Germont, but as Alfredo, Jose Bros' high-toned tenor sounded a little thin. Both had an old-fashioned approach to their acting in contrast to Gianattasio's more realistic style.
Whether decided by the singers or by director Ferzan Ozpetek, it is a poor choice dramatically for Germont to address his touching plea for his son to return home directly to the audience while Alfredo stands at the back of the stage facing away from him.
Dante Ferretti's sets and Alessandro Lai's costumes are lavish, but suffer odd lapses - Violetta's scarlet feather boa in the first act is more suited to a cheap prostitute than a sophisticated courtesan; the rural retreat of act two looks more like a gloomy castle than an oasis of country living.
There was a strong account of the score by the San Carlo Orchestra under the baton of Roberto Abbado and excellent, full-toned singing from the San Carlo Chorus. The dance sequence in act two was, however, painfully inept.