Stirring performances by Hartig, Ruciński energize Met’s troubled “Traviata”

Sat Apr 06, 2019 at 12:25 pm
Anita Hartig stars in Verdi's "La Traviata" at the Metropolitan Opera. File photo: Yannis Velissaridis

Anita Hartig stars in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera. File photo: Yannis Velissaridis

The new Michael Mayer Traviata left a troubled first impression when its cartoonish colors and superficial staging were unveiled at the Metropolitan Opera back in December. Those dramatic concerns persist, but a new cast that opened on Friday night brought irresistible energy to the piece, led by two phenomenal performances.

Anita Hartig has taken on a number of significant roles at the Met now, succeeding as Susanna, Mimì, Liù, and others. Violetta is her biggest assignment yet, and proved to be her greatest triumph.

At its full power, her soprano was thrilling, as when she tore through a bracing account of “Sempre libera” with sparkling coloratura. This was not a vocally perfect performance: some high notes were flat, and she began to fatigue later on. Yet those shortcomings never got in the way of her performance, as she worked that weariness into her interpretation, delivering a soft but deeply emotional “Addio, del passato.”

Hartig’s Violetta is a vividly constructed character from the very opening, where we see her confident independence shaken by her feelings for Alfredo. Act two was especially devastating, as she struggled to hold herself together in the extended scene with Alfredo’s father, overcome by grief at the thought of giving up the love that has become a sustaining force in her life. It was rewarding to see a soprano who has already demonstrated so much vocal and dramatic talent succeed in such a difficult role: hopefully this will lead to even more starring appearances at the Met in the next few years.

The other great revelation of the night was Artur Ruciński as the elder Germont, bringing a rich, weighty baritone completely without blemish. Giorgio Germont has some of the opera’s loveliest melodies, and Ruciński approached them with musical subtlety: his reading of “Di Provenza il mar” was beautifully balanced, alternating insistent scolding with desperate, emotional pleading. Ruciński’s take on Germont has a hard edge, his sense of duty allowing little room for compromise. Early on, his iron-hearted demeanor was difficult to square with the melting sweetness of “Pura siccome un angelo,” yet from there he built a detailed character arc, letting himself soften as he was won over by Violetta’s love for his son. It’s a shame audiences only have one more chance to see him in this role.

Stephen Costello is not new to the role of Alfredo, yet he seemed less comfortable on Friday than he has before. His vocal approach has changed: whereas he showed nuance in previous performances, now he delivers most of the part at the same high volume and vocal intensity. There’s passion in his singing, yet he dulls its effect by blasting all the way through. Nor is his new approach entirely clean: in Friday’s performance he showed significant power and a forceful ring at his top, but there was a hint of a rasp in his upper range and not much color lower down. His most successful singing came in Act III, when he backed off a bit for the earnest duet “Parigi, o cara.”

Among the supporting cast, Dwayne Croft stood out for his colorful baritone and noble bearing as the Baron Douphol, and Jeongcheol showed a cavernous bass-baritone as the Marquis D’Obigny. Kirstin Chávez’s Flora sounded weary, though she was energetic in her portrayal; and the veteran Jane Bunnell was an endearing Annina, singing with a quiet warmth.

Nicola Luisotti was superb in the pit, leading a lithe performance. Verdi’s score often feels cinematic in the way it describes the events and emotions of the stage, and Luisotti let it expand to fill out the drama without ever stepping on the singers. His pacing overall was brisk, but he was not afraid to let individual moments take more time.

La Traviata runs through April 27 at the Metropolitan Opera. Plácido Domingo takes over the role of Giorgio Germont beginning April 13.

2 Responses to “Stirring performances by Hartig, Ruciński energize Met’s troubled “Traviata””

  1. Posted Apr 18, 2019 at 8:37 am by Nancy Stoer

    My husband and I were thrilled by the performance and felt the Met had finally returned to its former glory- beautiful staging and great singing with Anita Hartig and Placido Domingo being stand-outs; the orchestra was also superb.

  2. Posted May 07, 2019 at 4:59 am by Nina

    We saw La Traviata on the 17th of April, and were blown away by Domingo’s performance. His voice and acting carried the rest of the cast. As a contrast to this, we were very disappointed by Stephen Costello as Alfredo, he seamed distant and his voice not all that impressive. Over all we still loved being there!

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