How you feel about the Marta Domingo production of La Traviata will probably be influenced by what you think about moving an opera from the original setting to another time period. Verdi wrote his blockbuster opera in 1853. Domingo has set this LA Opera production in the roaring ‘20’s. To astute audiences this production will be familiar. It was first mounted in 2004, and seen again in 2014.
In 2014 I was an anti revisionist. To borrow a trope from the Federalists, I was an originalist. Then, I thought the production was at odds with the opera and illuminated nothing. Now, I find the lavish production lends color and believability to the text. So what happened? Coloratura Adela Zaharia certainly must be given much of the credit. She is stunning to look at with a voice to match. No wonder a flaneur like Alfredo Germont (Charles Castronovo in this performance) would fall for this courtesan from the demimonde. It was a bit of a struggle in the end to imagine her expiring from consumption, but hey. No one ever has demanded believability from an opera’s book, much less from the casting. Zaharia’s voice is magnificent and her acting and appearance underscore the wisdom of casting this past Operalia winner.
Sadly, tenor Castronovo neither matches her vocal intensity nor her physical presence, undercutting the credibility of the pair and weakening their duets. His father, Giorgio Germont (Igor Golovatenko in this performance) is another story. Golovatenko’s powers of persuasion are far more palpable. One can see Violetta, a courtesan turned adoring lover, without a mean bone in her body, understanding the father’s point of view and forsaking her love for Alfredo. Even in opera, acting makes a difference.
So why am I so much happier with Marta Domingo’s production this time around Maybe familiarity? Maybe not. I still think the rotating disco ball is annoying as it’s reflection flashes through the audience. But this time around, the dancers in the Act II party scene made almost perfect sense. They were meticulously rehearsed. Mischievous and decadent. The one flaw in Kitty McNamee’s choreography was the Charleston. Sorry folks, there is no way to Charleston to Verdi.
The LA Opera’s production may ruffle some purists’ feathers, Golovatenko’s tenor may be no match for Zaharia’s strong presence, but the music is predictably gorgeous. We have come to expect nearly perfect from Conlon and his players. They do not disappoint in this Traviata.
Bottom line on Marta Domingo’s production? I’ll be ready to see it again in 2024. But please, Marta, ditch the disco ball and the Charleston.