It suffices to give just a cursory glance at the playbill to notice the quality of the artists enrolled by the Accademia Verdi for this one-off performance of La traviata in Casciana Terme, a small Tuscan spa town which I have already briefly described in my review of its inaugural opera, Madama Butterfly, a few months ago. The artistic forces include a respected orchestra (that of the Festival Puccini of Torre del Lago), a conductor, Matteo Beltrami, active in the most important opera companies, a stage director, Renato Bonajuto who, in addition to enjoying his own prosperous career, serves as the artistic director of one of the most reputable regional opera companies in Italy; last but not least, a protagonist with impressive credentials. Their combined experiences yielded a final product virtually free from the sense of improvisation often characterising productions born under similar circumstances, and that would not be out of place in much more famous opera companies: more significantly, all this was achieved with very reduced rehearsal time and on a tight budget.
Bonajuto, together with set designer Emiliana Paoli, concocted a Traviata that, though remaining within the safe confines of tradition, was peppered with original ideas and solutions, the right recipe to present opera to generally conservative audiences. He transposed the action in the art deco ambiance of the early twentieth century, in a brothel where Violetta and her co-workers entertain their clients. The atmosphere acquired further debauchery at Flora’s party, where the gypsy and the torero engaged in lewd dances. Personally I appreciated the attempt to bring to the surface the sordid aspect of this story, in a frame however that did not intimidate or put off the audience. Matteo Beltrami followed the same track, with a fairly traditional reading of the score; without particularly individual moments (impossible perhaps under these circumstances), he shaped a cohesive dramatic experience. Quite beautiful was the Prelude, in which the motives of death, of the love story and that of society gossiping about and opposing it (the fluttering of the violins) received the same attention: a sincere, unaffected conducting devoid of excessive sentimentalism — for example he avoided the ritardandos on Violetta’s phrase “Ah, perché venni incauta”, as well as the following one on the same melody. If the cuts of the second strophes of Violetta’s and Gérmont’s arias are understandable (“Addio del passato” should however be performed in its entirety), less defensible is the omission of the interventions of the soloists after Violetta’s death. The Chorus Schola Cantorum Labronica conducted by Maurizio Preziosi was very precise, energetic and effective.
Among the supporting roles the limpid soprano of Mirella di Vita stood out for her ability to neatly execute the gruppettos in her key phrase (“La volpe lascia il pelo”), as well as the penetrating timbre of Maria Gaia Pellegrini as Annina and the smooth baritone of Michele Pierleoni as Douphol. The cast was completed by Massimiliano Galli (Grenvil), Giampaolo Franconi (Gastone), Romano Franci (Obigny), Alberto Fonti (Giuseppe) and Alberto Cristiani (Domestico and Commissario).
Violetta Valéry is one of those iconic roles that since its creation have attracted an incredible range of soprano types, from the spinto to the light ones: our Violetta, Patrizia Cigna firmly stands in the latter category. Gifted with a good technique, she brilliantly negotiated the numerous difficulties of the role; as predictable, more congenial to her skills was Act I, where she exhibited clean passagework and an easy top, all the way to the final E flat. I would like to highlight the dexterity shown in the daccapo of “Sempre libera” where she linked – without breaks – the C 6 to C 5 in the phrase “A diletti sempre nuovi”. Other memorable moments were “Amami, Alfredo” where soprano and conductor followed Verdi’s indications in the orchestra (“Amami” in ff followed by “Alfredo” in piano), and the legato with which she joined the Act II finale. Finding completely satisfactory Violettas is one of opera’s biggest predicaments, and in Cigna’s case her Achilles’ heel was the lack of sensuality and feverish frenzy in Act I. In the rest of the opera she managed to recreate a generic if somewhat contrived drama, in the measure her vocal weight allowed it.
Though he cannot rely on a particularly alluring baritone, Carmelo Caruso undoubtedly possesses the technical schooling to successfully tackle the role of Gérmont, a substantially conventional staid pater familias who nevertheless would occasionally give a glimpse of a less guarded personality, such as the mischievous hinting at Violetta’s still being young and beautiful There was very little to object to in the Alfredo of Angelo Fiore, a young Sicilian tenor who dominated – at least vocally – the performance: he possesses a medium size pleasant (though not bewitching) lyric timbre with a remarkable extension particularly on a ringing top rich with overtones. Despite a few histrionics of dubious taste, such as the frankly unacceptable interpolation of a high C in his off stage interventions during “Sempre libera”, he proved to be much more than one-trick pony, engaging in ravishing pianissimos all throughout his range. The dilated tempos of the recitative conferred more importance to his Act II aria, followed by a fiery cabaletta capped – it goes without saying – with a puntatura on the C 5.
As a further sign of the Accademia Verdi’s ambitions, the next title of its season after the summer break will be Il matrimonio segreto, an unfairly forgotten masterpiece more mentioned in history books than actually performed on stage, and thus a challenge for every opera company willing to revive it.