After its sensational opening weeks, which offered much and promised even more in the way of enlightened, innovative opera production, the local company returned to the old business-as-usual. First seen in February 1999 (and not exactly beloved then), its creaky, quirky “La Traviata” only sporadically honored the sad sorrowings of Verdi’s near-perfect musical drama.
Again there was the willful, gimmick-ridden staging of Marta Domingo, with principal singers cavorting athletically around Giovanni Agostinucci’s stifling, resolutely retro set designs. Again there were the traditional cuts inflicted onto Verdi’s marvelously compact and shapely score — with just one-half of Alfredo’s act two cabaletta restored from the 1999 excisions. From the podium there was the decent competence of Placido Domingo’s leadership, but one sorely missed the elegant lyrical impulse he had once brought to this opera as its leading tenor.
Instead there was the squally, unfocussed Alfredo of Rolando Villazon, whose stage manner furthermore constituted a virtual parody of a scenery-chewing superstar of the old school. Ana Maria Martinez was the Violetta, her voice nicely colored by the role’s tragic overtones but undercut by a tendency to push sustained notes toward sharpness. As the burly, harsh-voiced Papa Germont, Jorge Lagunes wielded his cane like a drum major’s baton and seemed poised at any moment to thrash Violetta senseless.
As before, the biggest hand went not to any of the above but to the blinding bordello-red of Flora’s party scene. Peggy Hickey’s toreador ballet in that scene got a pretty good hand, too. At least nobody fell down.