Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Boo Who, Part Two (The Awkwardness of La Traviata at La Scala)

*Speaking of Act 2, Scene 2, DT seems unsure of what to do with the two (generally superfluous—these have got to be tough for any director to make sense of in a modern production) party choruses. In this performance, the chorus is not masked, and their performances are focused mockingly on Alfredo; they chase him around during the Gypsy and Toreador choruses. Then he exits quickly at the end of the second chorus; only to immediately reappear so the chorus can sing, “Alfredo! What are you doing here, and where’s Violetta?” If this was all meant to be symbolic, the symbolism flew right past me. (And I try pretty hard to “get” this stuff.)

I applaud DT’s effort to elevate the minor characters (servants) to companions, just to bring things up to date a bit. But he fails to give them actual personalities. Annina and Giuseppe (I had to look in the cast list and libretto to figure out who’s the guy sitting around in Act 2) stand (or sit) around awkwardly, listening to the main characters sing, but barely reacting to them at all.  All this tenor and soprano emoting is going on, and these two companion/servants stand around looking bewildered and helpless. Not concerned and helpless—it’s more like they aren’t even sure who these other people are. Diana Damrau acts the heck out of Sempre libera. But she might as well sing to the Violetta doll (a nice touch in Acts 2 and 3, by the way) as to her stick-figure Annina.

All in all, I think Tcherniakov deserved his booos! Although if you watch the official video, you’ll miss them. In the Liveweb version of the broadcast, they made substantial edits to the curtain calls: no solo bows, so you don't get to hear the (three) boos for Mr. Beczala, nor the adulation for Ms. Damrau. And when DT arrives on stage, the video team discreetly fades the sound and cuts to a view of the orchestra players applauding Gatti. Thanks to a link at the Intermezzo blog, we can see fuller, unedited curtain calls, complete with booing:

So Boo Who? No one but the director. There should be no boos for Piotr, or Diana, or Verdi, or La Scala (well, maybe for hiring Tcherniakov)—but maybe a little sympathy for them all. They all deserve better than this production.

* Eagle-eyed readers may have caught a glimpse of the first version of this post. It turned into rather annoying rant, so I pulled it down for a rewrite. This is the less rant-y version. 

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