Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Subtraction by addition

Serbian baritone Željko Lucic, Germont in the remainder of the season's Traviatas, may be the best singer (as such) therein. But his addition to the cast of this revival (in place of Andrzej Dobber) may also have harmed its overall success.

His virtues first: the full, overtone-rich sound of a "real Verdi baritone" (in this piece, at least -- upcoming performances as Rigoletto and Di Luna will tell the tale), used with admirable legato and a certain rhythmic-dramatic alertness not much shown by his predecessor. These add up each night to a ravishing "Di Provenza" that may now be the vocal highlight of the opera. But Germont is not Rigoletto: he does not carry the dramatic weight of his piece.

Lucic, in fact, may be not wooden enough to make the key scene (Act II scene 1) work. Or, rather, what a lesser baritone conveys here with his limitations -- the implacable respectability of the man as he asks Violetta to give up his son -- finds no expression in the forceful but pleasant mellifluousness of Lucic's performance. In fact he is so responsive, so spirited that it throws off the opera's scheme: why does this man have the heavy's part when, after all, he's clearly more interesting and sympathetic than his callow son? (Massimo Giordano's expressive limitations don't help.) The scene can contain -- and use -- this irony, but Lucic and Anja Harteros have not found their way to it, neither musically nor dramatically. They may yet do so, of course, but the mostly unchanged stage direction of recent revivals -- which calls here for an almost maximally unyielding Germont -- is a real obstacle.

Maury noticed the tenor Giordano crooning in the third act several performances ago. In fact he's thrown in this exaggerated attempt at dynamic contrast in each performance I've seen: most recently (Thursday) it had spread all the way to "Un dì felice", where it compounded an evening-long bout of flatting all the slow parts. He earned the boos some gave him at curtain calls.

UPDATE (11/13): Commenter Cameron Kelsall notes that Dobber (the previous Germont) will return for the very last performance this season -- next Thursday.


  1. Was Dobber just doing some of the Traviatas or has he pulled out/been pulled out. He stepped in for the last night of Traviata last January at the Royal Opera House in place of the ill Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He was ok, but not particularly memorable.

  2. He was only scheduled for the first performances.

  3. Dobber is returning for the final performance as well, on November 20.

  4. Saw Traviata last night & completely agree that Act 2 scene 1 did not work, though the reason for this was not immediately clear to me (certainly not due to poor singing, though). A friend's reaction was that Germont was too much of a bully, which I think is consistent with your view -- he persuades Violetta through force of personality and not through "implacable respectability".

    So, whereas Act 2 is usually my favorite, last night it was Harteros in Act 3.

    PS -- not that this is in your post, but while I think that the production overall is tired I do still like the party scenes.

  5. Thanks for the comments! I'll definitely try to see the last performance with Dobber.

    Call me a snob, but I can't get over the applause that Flora's bordello^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hballroom gets from the first-timers every single night. And the less said about dancing cows the better.


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.