Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez in 'La Traviata'
Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez in 'La Traviata' © Marty Sohl

Has the Metropolitan Opera turned its back on modern productions? Last year’s new Tosca reverted to Franco Zeffirelli’s overblown style but subjected it to a new twist. Now an interestingly innovative production of Verdi’s La traviata by Willy Decker — the one from Salzburg with the big clock — has been replaced by a production by Michael Mayer of surpassing gaudiness and few ideas. The party in Act One takes place in a stylised, gussied-up Parisian salon, an overly busy spectacle (designed by Christine Jones) that might have yielded to something more palatable for the scene in the country but instead serves for the whole evening. Susan Hilferty’s costumes have Violetta dressed in virginal white, but did everyone else have to look so garish to make the point?

Erratic acting by Diana Damrau, as Violetta, may have hampered Mayer’s direction. She responded grippingly to moments of emotional tension, but elsewhere her demeanour could be stagy or coy. Was this what Mayer wanted? Or did he simply let this well-practised Violetta draw on her experience? His direction of the other principals offered few surprises. His main innovation was lame — bringing Alfredo’s sister onstage as a mute witness while her father persuades Violetta to give up Alfredo.

Damrau’s voice retains its luminous beauty, and while some may find her attention to musical details fussy, to me it is an asset. The high point was her searing account of Violetta’s death-obsessed aria, “Addio del passato”, both verses. Juan Diego Flórez, in his role debut as Alfredo, contributed some sterling singing, especially in music rooted in the bel canto tradition. In bigger dramatic moments, as when Alfredo insults Violetta when repaying his debt to her, the voice sounded inadequate. The most authentically Verdian of the principals was Quinn Kelsey, who sang Germont with polished musicianship and an orotund voice.

This should have been a happier occasion, because La traviata marks Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s first performances since officially becoming the Met’s music director. His conducting was faultlessly paced, expertly balanced and conscious of singers’ needs. We can be glad he is on board.

★★★☆☆

To April 27, metopera.org

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