An Opera Donald Trump Could Love
Published April 22, 2010
ANGELA GHEORGIU AND THOMAS HAMPSON IN LA TRAVIATA. PHOTO BY BRENT NESS
If one celebrity were to make an appearance at last night’s production of “La Traviata,” it might as well be Donald Trump. First produced in 1853, Verdi’s bombastic tale of love- versus-family honor was directed by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, a man not noted for his minimalism. The production is, in a word (or, appropriately, three words for one): over the top. Not in the marginalized language camp way, and certainly not with kitsch knowingness, but with a big confidence in grandeur, physicality, and embellishment. Verdi’s music, which picks up genre music like flamenco and rhapsody and synthesizes it into giant arias, is a force of nature with no regard for political correctness.
Angela Gheorghiu plays Violetta, the consumptive courtesan who makes herself a martyr when the father of the man she loves indicates her checkered past is coming it the way of the family’s future. She came on stage unsteadily, but by the end of the first act she pulled up her flirty, giddy voice, seemingly by the force of her dramatic pantomime. Then, at the end of the first act, she gave a curtsy in her corset, like a true diva. As Alfredo, Violetta’s naïve lover, the tenor James Valenti is sensitive, with a voice big enough to carry him through most of the part. The high point of the production is the tripartite persuasion scene at the beginning of the second act. Thomas Hampson is Germont, the father figure stubbornly, but not quite menacingly, stuck in the past, and he cajoles the younger woman into leaving his son with richness and depth. When Alfredo returns prematurely and meets Violetta, we get the height of the singer’s native abilities—her flimsy, all-over-the-place hysterics and his Harvard boy opacity. They come together like two parts of an oblivious, ill-fated eternity.
And eternity is what their voices had to compete with, or at least huge, Nineteenth Century period rooms designed by Zeffirelli, and, at the end of the big Spanish dance scene, glitter. The sets are immersive and show-offy and tasteful all at once. Donald Trump could learn something about interiors, perhaps, but he matches Zeffirelli in his crusade against small gestures.