The starting point for Peter Mussbach’s 2003 production of La Traviata for the Aix-en-Provence festival is his knowledge, as one trained as a medical doctor, of the effects of TB on a person’s appearance. He argues that the disease produces a strange kind of beauty with the skin translucent and pale. So, here Mireille Delunsch, as Violetta, wears a white dress, a platinum wig and very pale powder throughout while everyone else is dressed in black. Couple this with a high contrast and highly dramatic lighting plot and very sparse sets and you have the essence of the “look”. The blocking and Personenregie reinforces this with Violetta often appearing to be an ethereal, not quite solid, presence surrounded by a rather coarse material world.
Musically it’s very much of a piece with the staging. Delunsch seems quite fragile of tone though never becoming too thin or underpowered. By conttrast, both the Germonts; Matthew Polenzani as Alfredo and Zeljko Lucic as Giorgio have powerful, rather unsubtle voices. The latter in particular seems almost too bluff for the role. Shades of his Macbeth here. I did find the relentless volume a bit wearing but I’ve a strong suspicion it’s what the director called for. Yutaka Sado’s conducting fits too. It’s high energy and quite fast, especially in the chorus numbers. And the chorus, led by a truly frightening Flora Damiana Pinti seem at times almost like demons from Hell.
So what we have is a production permeated by death from the very first bar. This Violetta knows she is dying from the start. The world around here; solid and dark, really doesn’t care until it’s much too late. In a funny way it’s both more direct and subtler than Decker. It’s also quite compelling and I found myself seeing and hearing familiar (too familiar) scenes in new ways. I don’t think I’ve ever found the Sempre libera disturbing before but here I did. I strongly suspect it really needs to be watched a few times to mine all the subtleties.
Don Kent does a good job with the video direction. There are some dark scenes, some very dramatic lighting and some rather errie visuals that can’t have been at all easy to capture but they come over really quite well on disk. The picture itself is pretty decent and the DTS surround sound much better than average for DVD. It’s very clean and open with the strings especially well caught. The booklet has a track listing, a synopsis, biographies and a rather good interview with Mussbach. There are no extras on the disk. Subtitle options are French, English, Spanish and German. The design of just about everything to do with the disk and packaging; intros, menus, fonts, is rather striking too.
This disk is available separately or as part of a very good value boxed set of performances from Aix. The other three are an Entführing aus dem Serail with Malin Hartelius and Matthias Klink, the world premiere recording of Philippe Boesmans’ Julie and a 2000 L’incoronazione di Poppea with Anne Sofie von Otter and Mireille Delunsch.