She's blessed with Rolando Villazón as Alfredo. He brings fiery passion to the role of the impetuous lover, convincing in his anger at what he thinks is her betrayal, and in his regrets in their last-act deathbed reconciliation. His singing is on par with his acting, the voice ringing in climaxes, scaled down to sweet lyricism in the love scenes, husky, almost baritone-like in the more overtly dramatic scenes. As his father, Giorgio Germont, the veteran baritone Renato Bruson tends to mistake stiffness for authority and he's on the dry side vocally, lacking the colors that can make Germont's four-square arias interesting. The smaller parts are capably done and conductor James Conlon leads a thrilling, performance, shaping phrases idiomatically.
Stage director Marta Domingo's direction is firmly traditional, with sets and costumes by Giovanni Agostinucci that reflect the period. The first-act party scene in which we are introduced to the characters is imaginatively moved to the terrace of Violetta's house where the greenery, tables, and openness lend a fresh perspective to an opera that grows increasingly darker. By contrast, Flora's party, where Alfredo denounces the hapless Violetta, is draped in the red of demi-monde Paris. The big stage, so useful in the rest of the opera, tends to be too big for the intimate last act. Surely Violetta, down to her last 10 sous, should be in a more humble abode. The opening of this act also finds the only trace of directorial heavy-handedness. We all know the consumptive Violetta dies at the end, but Domingo places Fleming on a bier-like bed during the prelude and introduces a black-clad figure of Death who swoops into the scene. Fortunately, the rest of the act is free of such meaningless indulgences. Bryan Large's video direction is excellent too, always focused where it should be and without the excessive tight close-ups that distract from the singers by showing their tonsils. --Dan Davis
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