The Dresden Semperoper began its run of Verdi's "La Traviata" in October 2009. The title character of Andreas Homoki's reinterpretation is a thin young woman with a beehive hairdo in hot pink stilettos and a very flashy, very short cheetah-print dress: the modern day Violetta. Despite how classless her initial character appears, it is Violetta's distastefulness that allows her to transform and for the rest of the story to unfold in a modern setting.
The opera took place in a very abstract space; the stage was almost always bare, except for a red armchair and a long, flexible row of red slats that acted as a curtain, a wall, or sometimes a staircase of sorts. The lack of set never detracted from the plot's fluidity, nor did the mismatched party guests (some in chains and a cap, some in tuxedos, but all belonging to seemingly different decades), but it made locking in on a specific time period or location quite difficult.
Last night's Violetta, sung by Elizabeth Zharoff, made a touching emotional transformation during the course of the opera. Zharoff's coloring of Verdi's aptly written music walked the audience through this transformation; through Violetta's flirty melodies and dancing coloratura, we understood her glitzy former life, but as she grows and learns to love, her lines become more lyrical and dramatic. Zharoff's voice was light, but impressively full and resonant, which allowed her both a voluptuous, throaty sound and a fragile piano. Her intonation was slightly off pitch when reaching for high notes throughout Act I and her voice was not quite agile enough to sing the notorious "Sempre Libera" comfortably, but she gave a commendable performance nevertheless.
Zharoff and bass-baritone Markus Marquardt, in the role of Giorgio Germont, created heartrendingly sincere drama in the Act II confrontation scene. Marquardt possessed the rich, dark tones of a bass, allowing him to be both warm and authoritative. Marquardt's dark, ample voice served as the perfect foil to Zharoff's clear tone in this musical argument.
Marquardt played a reasonable Germont who wants happiness for his family first and foremost, but also sympathizes with Violetta. His Act II aria "Di Provenzia" was ripe with nostalgia and earnest good intentions, but in this opera even those with the best intentions do not get their happy ending. It was a pleasant surprise to hear the often omitted cabaletta "No, Non Udrai" after Germont's two even-tempered arias.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the night was tenor Arnold Rutkowski's portrayal of Alfredo. With flawless intonation and diction, searing passion, and a bright, dynamic tone, one could not have asked for more from Rutkowski's showstopping Alfredo. Throughout his vocal range, Rutkowski was proficient and confident, which made Alfredo an easy character to engage with. He displayed particular vocal fortitude and youthful vigor in his Act II cabaletta "De'miei Bollenti Spiriti."
Zharoff was still brimming with energy through Act III, which belongs almost exclusively to Violetta. Reduced to a black slip and a short crop of hair where her abounding mane once was, the scene was pitiful and Zharoff's soft, vulnerable "Addio del Passato" completed the tragic picture. The trio of principal characters sang from their hearts in the tragic final reunion and milked each line for its emotional power.
Where Violetta does, on the one hand, bring about her own demise, the production stressed the social influences that constantly weigh on her mind. Conductor Paolo Arrivabeni highlighted the ever present orchestral motifs in the score and kept a steady balance throughout the performance. Although modern productions often become a matter of individual taste, Homoki's production kept very true to the core of Verdi's masterpiece and tells the story in a way that anybody can relate to.