Sunday, December 18, 2011

La Traviata in Berlin: Omer Meir Wellber, Christine Schäfer, and Francesco Demuro - Bravi Tutti!

La Traviata, Staatsoper Unter den Linden im Schiller Theater - Berlin, December 17 2011

Conductor ..... Omer Meir Wellber
Director ..... Peter Mussbach

Violetta Valéry ..... Christine Schäfer
Flora Bervoix ..... Maraike Schröter
Annina ..... Rowan Hellier
Alfredo Germont ..... Francesco Demuro
Giorgio Germont ..... Alfredo Daza
Gaston ..... Paul O’Neill
Baron Douphol ..... Bernd Zettisch
Marquis d'Obigny ..... Arttu Kataja
Dr. Grenvil ..... Andreas Bauer

Staatskapelle Berlin

This is a relatively old production. It was premiered in 2004 at the Festival in Aix-en-Provence, and it is today one of the reference Traviata's. Peter Mussbach was clever to explore the minimalist approach in a rather innovative way for the time when the production was made. Today this would not be met with the same enthusiasm as in 2004, but it was nevertheless a clean way to depict a peculiar atmosphere that goes with the emotional journey of the main character of the drama.

Violetta Valéry is a celebrity. She's Marilyn Monroe, or any other bleached blonde --platinette-- of your choice, imprisoned in her image that is just an object of sexual desire. Beneath that image of glamor and beauty is a paradoxically unhappy character, emotionally ruined woman who craves love and attention. This story never gets old. It's just the angle that changes the look and brings the story  perpetual life. 

Always intense and passionate Christine Schäfer

We saw this production on DVD, and I must say that in theater it looks very different. The stage and the pit are covered by a transparent fabric on which is projected an artsy grayish film, made by someone who was driving very fast in the night. The rain drops bring extra roughness to the picture we see, and behind the fabric is an interminable road, and a lonely young glamorous girl, whirled in the speed of things that happens around her, that she cannot control. She follows the life that she cannot fully understand, looks more and more disoriented, desperate, loses the strength to cope and falls on her knees, as if begging for help...

Love will help her to stand up but only to realize that her image does not let her to live an ordinary life: she is an object of desire, she is not a kind of girl a father would see his son spend his life with. So Mussbach stripped all the prostitute and party-girl part off the story and focused on the emotional journey of Violetta Valéry. And strangely, despite its slowness, it works really well! For that to be the case you definitely need a very strong soprano because Violetta Valéry in this production spends 100% of the time on the stage, in the middle of the road. The series of arias, duets... without ever rinsing the throat, it takes a courageous singer such as Christine Schäfer who not only sang every note from the score, she vocally sculpted the emotional trip of Violetta.

It is easy to nitpicking on Christine's lack of Italianità, but you cannot complain about any note skipped or fastly jumped over. She sings everything in her own way, and this is one of many examples why she's the world's leading Lieder singer. She lives the verses she sings. Not a single word is pronounced with pathos or conveying a cheap emotion. Every word is emphasized as to build the emotional portrait of a desperately lonely woman. The full house was breathlessly with Christine and loved what she had to show that night (I spotted Wolfgang Rihm in the crowd. I wouldn't be surprised if he came for Christine too.)  The small size of the auditorium of this theater helped this kind of highly emotional interpretation, and I am more than glad to have been there.

My surprise was the tenor. Alfredo Germont is one of the most famous tenor roles that exposes both good and bad sides of one's voice. Even if his timbre is not very broad (the thickness of the timbre will develop with age), Francesco Demuro has everything for this role and sings it really beautifully. Luminous high notes, sung with great style, with ease that deserves respect. He will soon be performing in Paris, in Don Pasquale at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. I can only hope he will confirm this excellent impression he's made last night in Berlin.

WONDERFUL Omer Meir Wellber -- Francesco Demuro clapping behind

Alfredo Daza, a reliable baritone, completes the strong cast, but my other heap of praises goes to Omer Meir Wellber, who started as a young Barenboim's protegé, but who grew up and is now one of the world best conductors as far as the Italian repertoire is concerned. He knows well this wonderful orchestra and the chemistry worked brilliantly last night. I also believe he's worked with Christine Schäfer before because the level of complicity between the soprano and the conductor was astounding.

This was a kind of opera nights I like from time to time!

Winning trio: Demuro, Meir Wellber, and Christine Schäfer (pics look blurred because of the tulle that covers the stage. It gives a misty imagery that helps the show even it does not help the photos...

Production photos:

Here is one of the most compelling operatic scenes ever, with Christine Schäfer and Jonas Kaufmann, recorded in Paris 2007 (when the Paris Opera produced meaningful and artistically exciting shows)

This is why we LOVE Christine and Jonas!

The full video of this most memorable Christoph Marthaler production is available on YouTube (arguably the best Traviata ever -- with all respect due to Decker, Neuenfels, Mussbach... -- I am yet to see the DVD of the Konwitschny production)

Last night I was told that very recently Benedikt von Peter produced a monumental Traviata in Hannover.  See trailer here

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