Thursday, July 17, 2014

Two Traviatas in One Day--Neither in Lisbon

[This entry should have appeared two weeks ago--for which, apologies.]

Yes, this past Saturday, I managed to attend two performances of La Traviata: one was a video relay shown in the Bethesda Row movie house of a production at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, with Renee Fleming, Joseph Calleja, and Thomas Hampson; the second, that night at the Gala Hispanic Theatre (nee Tivoli) on 14th Street in DC, was The IN Series production, with string ensemble and two stirring, totally able lead singers.

The IN Series production may have been the best operatic performance this series has yet produced, and that includes the modernizations of two Mozart-Da Ponte gems: Don Giovanni: the Long Island Version and Marriage of Figaro: the Vegas Version, in the first of which, the title character is truly a Mafia don, while in the second, the Count is a Wayne Newton type in the Vegas nobility. 

Traviata always gets to me, beginning with the prelude, which usually brings the tears right at the start. The first act is absolutely perfect--musically it moves from one high point to another, ending with Violetta's two glorious arias, finally Sempre libere, the significance of which remains a wonderfully arguable issue.

The position of the late Alberta Masiello, told during one of those wonderful old-time Met intermission lectures on the Saturday radio broadcasts, was that in this aria she has decided she will not go off in love with Alfredo but will continue to live her life as a high-priced Parisian courtesan and enjoy joy after joy for however she endures (which in any case will not be for long).

I always have found this a worthy position to take, except that her expressed love for Alfredo in the very next act and her horror at having to give him up both tend to go against the point of the imperious if delightful Miss Masiello.

Renee Fleming was superb in her rendition, of course, and the Royal Opera's production was magnificent.  In recent years, though, I've seen all kinds of Traviata productions--the trend is to stark, modern ones--and they all can work with this seemingly indestructible vehicle.

In between the late morning and evening shows, I also managed to take in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Private Lives, probably Noel Coward's finest play. It remains a delight of his sharp comedy and he maintains the high level of dialogue through three strong acts. The players here were also fine, although seeing the company do Design for Living a couple of seasons ago makes me yearn for the impossible: the original cast of design, for whom Coward wrote the show: the Lunts and himself.

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