Monday, December 16, 2013

Boo Who? – Awkward La Scala La Traviata (Part 1)

Piotr Beczala shouldn’t be cranky about his buuhs; he should be cranky about this whole new La Scala production of La Traviata. For me, this is the kind of show that gives Regieoper a bad name. It’s so freakin’ awkward. Does Tcherniakov have lousy ideas, is he just lousy at Personenregie, or what? I’ve already complained about his handling of the chorus, and presenting Alfredo as impetuous, immature, and petulant has worked in other productions, but it’s not working here. Diana Damrau and Mr. Beczala are not bad actors, and they’re pretty darned good singers! I hate to go over to the “other side,” but I have to say it: This production was a waste of nearly everyone’s time. (Although, a radio broadcast of it would be nice and mostly satisfying.)

I watched Act 3 yesterday afternoon. This reconciliation scene is all about resentment and anger. (It’s usually about love and regret.) Unfortunately, the actors don’t seem convinced. I mean, they are playing the emotions, but it’s as if they weren’t given enough…I don’t know…motivation, or encouragement, or…direction. It’s very unsatisfying, and again—sorry if I am repeating myself—it’s a shame, because Ms. Damrau and Mr. Beczala are better than this production.

Alfredo brings flowers and pastries—who brings pastries do a dying woman? He messes around with the flowers till Annina finally picks up the cue and brings him a vase. And poor Violetta isn’t quite sure what to do with the huge box of pastries. (In fact, this production often has the singers fiddling about with big awkward props—sometimes when they are singing, and frequently when someone else is singing. Do these people all have attention deficit problems?)

Although they have been estranged, and one might expect a bit of awkwardness, Alfredo seems to be there more out of duty than desire—he doesn’t even want to touch her. Initially, Violetta is happy he’s there, but she gets impatient and angry with his attitude, and ultimately pushes him away. Even though this idea is contrary to the libretto, I could see it working. And if the director meant Violetta and Alfredo to be awkward with each other, then it kind of works; but I can’t help feeling this concept is a struggle for the principals—Tcherniakov hasn’t convinced them, and they’re playing it cautiously.

Speaking of contrary to the libretto, the end of Act 2 is similarly counter-intuitive. I know that Violetta wants to be conciliatory, so that’s OK. But here’s Alfredo singing about remorse, and his behavior is still petulant and resentful. He’s not wishing she’d forgive him—he’s still pissed that she left. And I get the handshake thing at the end…it echoes her teasing in Act 1. But I feel like the wrong person is on their knees. Maybe Alfredo’s regret is that he got involved with her at all. Maybe the first scene Act 2 (which I thought was rather sweet) wasn’t so much domestic bliss as “playing house.” So maybe his remorse in Scene 2 is “I’m sorry I got involved in this whole effing thing in the first place, and now I have to fight some stupid duel for someone who betrayed me.” But it doesn’t read that way. It just reads petulant. No wonder Piotr is peeved.

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