Reason #62: I saw La Traviata from Met Opera and I’m shocked

I don’t know what to say. I saw Verdi’s La Traviata in a live transmission from Metropolitan Opera in New York and I am puzzled. Or to say it plainly: I am in shock.

Reason #62: I am happy because I saw Verdi’s La Traviata from Met Opera in New York and I am not sure what to say. Or am I?

I’ve decided to write this review in English – though I am terrible at it – just to share these opinions with the world – I am so angry… Where do I start..? Well, let’s say, I had not seen a live transmission from Met before so it was all new to me. I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared for the cultural shock that comes with it. Or was it shocking only to the European viewer who is not familiar with American taste? Like asking for donations during intermission! Yep! it really happened! 0-800! Ha! But no, the production was European so that’s not it.

OK, let’s just list the problems – and some of them are inherent to the opera production itself and some to the TV broadcast:

1. The set design in this production is not suited for TV production at all – to say the least. Some could say it straight: it killed it. The fucking white wall around the stage! Who could bare that!? Well, I have not seen this particular production in person so I can’t know for sure – perhaps it looks great from the theatre audience – but seeing it on the TV screen is just horrible. Boring! The set designer constructed a plain and spherical wall around the stage and gave it a boring grayish colour which wears off after 5 minutes of watching. The effect of the wall is a frame with a singing face on the backdrop of a white plate! – no depth, no colour, something that no film director would ever agree to. Awful! 2 hours of that and your eyes feel like stuffed with cotton.

It’s only a little better in the second act with flower patterns.

2. A sofa from IKEA. Well, must I say more? A red sofa from IKEA is the most prominent element on the stage! OK, wait, there also is the…

3. The Clock. OMG! The director came up with a brilliant idea to put a giant clock on the stage as a metaphor for passing time. The time Violetta has left before she dies. The design of the clock brings back memories of the clocks from East Berlin railway stations during Russian occupation. The metaphor is so sophisticated that any 9 year old would be proud of it at their art class. But seeing it in Verdi’s masterpiece is a pain inflicted by banality. Pretentious would be the right word.

4. The moment when Violetta climbs this clock…

5. Violetta’s clothes. I wonder, what monster would ever punish a girl by making her wear these clothes!? Sonya Yoncheva is great in her act and her singing but she is no athlete or model. She is a very pretty woman, but a woman in her late thirties who spends her time rehearsing for theatre not at aerobics. So… what I am trying to say is that… you wouldn’t necessarily want to have her sing half naked or in her slip. You would rather make her wear something interesting to watch, something to make her beauty stand out. The slip was a crime.

5. Alfredo’s (Michael Fabiano) hairy legs. I mean, c’mon! Did I have to see that!? The director made the main singer walk around in his boxer shorts with his hairy legs all in the open. Frankly, I was worried that Fabiano bird will fly out and start to sing! And I make it sound lightly, but it was sad. Sad to see wonderful professional singers at peeks of their careers humiliated like that. Shame.

6. The old man walking the stage – another fat metaphor for 9 year olds. Thank God he sang in the third act and justified himself.

7. Willy Decker and Wolfgang Gussmann should not do any more operas. And I am sorry, but how do you say „finesse” in German?

And now about the TV Production:

  1. The hostess: a pretty woman with a mouth like a precise Japanese machine… very smooth, well prepared… but…. OK, I think she was great and I would take her out, but her role in the show was confusing. At times she seemed to be reading her text from a computer prompter and then she had to improvise interviews… Like during the…
  2. Intermission interviews! Yep, it happened! Listen to this! First act comes to an end, the curtain comes down and we are in the back stage, where our hostess decides to take us to the stage to talk to Violetta and Alfredo!!! No shit! I set there terrified as she walked straight into the set and approached the poor singers who were breathing heavily after the first act like soccer players coming off the pitch. And the hostess thrusted her microphone and her questions into their faces. I sank deeper into my chair in terror. The mystery and the illusion of the story was gone in an instant and I was left with two poor people trying to explain themselves to me for what they were doing!
  3. Difficult question. I can’t exactly recall what was the question but poor Sonya couldn’t answer! For some long five seconds the poor girl was struggling with an answer and she couldn’t spit it. Didn’t they talk it over before hand? Or was it some question that the hostess came up at that very moment? Either way we had to watch the poor singer struggle and it was horrible. Why? What for? And then the hostess turned to the camera and said… we have more interesting productions coming your way! La Traviata was not important any more! there was more!
  4. Announcing other productions during the break! I don’t know what you think but it kills it for me… I had to watch trailers for some other production while trying to concentrate on La Traviata… Maybe it’s good for business but not for Verdi. And speaking of business…
  5. Asking for donations! During the intermission the hostess turned to us and bluntly asked for money. She said that Met productions were expensive and that tickets (that we just paid) were pennies and she needed more. 0-800 number followed.

And I won’t go any further. I think it does it. I will just add, that the hostess told me exactly who gave money for this particular production and these were all rich American Jewish families. I’m thinking it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stage La Traviata with orthodox Jews the next time. Maybe it will have some interesting look at least.

But singing was great.

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