La Traviata (Dress Rehearsal) • Met Opera • November 20 2018

The tableau during the overture announces the old idea of placing the end at the beginning, trying to turn the entire opera into a flashback. At the end of the overture, after Violetta got up from her deathbed and stepped up to the other performers, frozen in time, before retreating, stepping backwards as if she was sucked out of the room (one of those ideas that sound great but don’t work onstage, only in film or music videos, which already tells me a lot about this director’s weaknesses and likes), the other figures came to life and one of them literally stepped up to the bed pretending that Violetta’s body was still lying there, and closing the non-existing corpse’s eyesand then adjusting the blankets. Wow. No one said during rehearsals, “Wait, this does not work”???

Throughout this production, the singers seem largely left to their own devices in the way they act out the role (besides positioning), and the staging adds nothing to the inner drama of the characters. Diana Damrau is either miscast or misused, appears frantic, overacting. Clearly, no effort has been made to help her in her interpretation to bring her own Violetta to life. Too bad, because she has proven many times over that she can be a great actress. Her voice glorious, the coloratura cascading like clear water, but the body language is diffuse, uncoordinated. Rather small in stature, she has a tendency to make fast small gestures that don’t read and come across as hesitant, nervous, without conviction, unfinished. My advice to someone like her would be to always move as if under water. Florez is strangely uninvolved in his performance, perhaps because it was just the dress rehearsal. The entire production, dipped in shiny purple, green and gold, looks more like a gaudy Disney Broadway musical than Italian opera. Cartoon kitsch as opposed to grand opulence. Violetta’s throwing of light-weight polyester pillows and audibly plastic champagne flutes comes across as a hissy fit by someone no one can feel sympathy for. It would have been interesting to adjust the role to Damrau’s particular type and have her play Violetta at first as a haughty, steely, hot-cold woman à la Glenn Close who then slowly melts and becomes human. Too much to ask when the main focus is a half-rotating structure that frames the stage but fails to ever create a different look no matter how it is placed, and some conceptual ideas that may have sounded interesting when they were presented but do not work at all nor add anything interesting, not one of them, including the heavy-handed gesture of making the bed the centerpiece for all three acts, or the appearance of Alfredo’s sister, whose crossing of the stage as an apparition in Act III was unwittingly comical, the costume making the character look like a character from Meet me in St. Louis. To boot, the extra portraying her was arching her back stiffly as she walked, which made her look like a pregnantbride. Speaking of boots: As always, the Met’s shoe department gets the grand prize (and I want Alfredo’s boots) and the wig department needs to be completely overhauled – you can see far better wigs on RuPaul’s Drag Race. But Damrau’s Sempre Libera made me realize what the aria is about: it is as close to a masturbation scene you can find in opera. Violetta virtually imagines being with him and contrasts it with the easier, instant gratification: Gioir! The end of the aria is the orgasm, and of course Alfredo is on her mind in that moment, which is why we see her living with him in the next act.

There is one flaw in the libretto that always puzzles me: the argument that life in the country is ruining Violetta financially.  There ought to be a way to justify this strange assertion visually.