Let me be the very last person to chime in on Angela Gheorghiu's remarkable Traviata at the Met. I was present for the soprano's Met debut, in 1993, as Mimi in Bohème. For the New York Times I wrote: "Her voice showed admirable qualities: lustrous dark tone, steady attacks in all registers, inoffensive vibrato, and a spectacular dynamic control allowing her to move effortlessly from clarion fortissimos to silken pianissimos. Unfortunately, this was all; one waited in vain for a strong expressive or dramatic dimension. At times, she simply practiced a highbrow form of crooning. Still, the preternatural beauty of the voice made a lingering impression." Well, either Gheorghiu has changed radically in the meantime, or, more likely, I lacked the operagoing experience to notice her potential. In any case, the expressive and dramatic dimension of her Violetta is damn strong. Peter Davis of New York captures it beautifully. "A dark-haired, impeccably gowned lady of the camellias," he writes, "with a sad cameo face, dangerous fragility, and an air that commands attention without hogging the scene."
One moment impressed me very much. This was Gheorghiu's rendition of the legendary outburst "Amami, Alfredo," when Violetta bids farewell to Alfredo before he knows she is leaving him. Callas, live at La Scala in 1955, made these words an eruption of emotion, the very definition of a heart laid bare. Gheorghiu does something quite different. She assumes a cool, grand facade, proceeding toward her lover in statuesque fashion, painting the vocal line in sustained, majestic strokes. Instead of baring all, Violetta is once again raising her defenses against the world, to protect her shattered heart. It was a brilliant moment of dramatic singing, the kind of thing we go to opera for. It made me forget some other oddities in the performance — the fact that significant lines were sung to the sides or back of the stage, the not unrelated fact that the voice sometimes sounded underpowered against full orchestra.
Jonas Kaufmann, the Alfredo, was a good match
for Gheorghiu's striking combination of understatement and intensity.
My friend Sean called him "smoky," which captures the quality of the
voice; more covered, more low-lying than the usual Italian tenor. Not
ideal for Verdi, but refreshing. Anthony Michaels-Moore was a noble,
husky-voiced Germont, though I found myself wishing (like Maury) that John Hancock,
who sang Baron Douphol, could have a crack at the
lead baritone role. He's an intelligent singer who's made a commanding
impression every time I've heard him, never more so than as Robert Storch,
aka Richard Strauss, in City Opera's production of Intermezzo.
The conductor, Marco Armiliato, ran a tight ship but had little
obvious feeling for the ebb and flow of the Verdi line. He was
strangely detached throughout, as if he were conducting middle-period