La Traviata (Matthews)

Verdi La Traviata opera to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Directed by Francesca Zambello at the Sydney Opera House. Stars Emma Matthews, Gianluca Terranova, Jonathan Summers, Margaret Plummer, Martin Buckingham, James Clayton, and Christopher Hillier. Brian Castles-Onion conducts the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and the Opera Australia Chorus. Stage design by Brian Thomson; costume design by Tess Schofield; lighting design by John Rayment. Released 2012, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio Sound. Grade: A+

This title was maybe seen for the first time in the Western hemisphere on September 9 and 15, 2012 at a gala sneak-preview event of L'OperaDou in Nîmes, France. Celebrities from all over the Riviera region were there to enjoy the show and the interval (intermission) at Gordon Smith's estate pool. The paparazzi were disappointed, however, as everyone stayed dressed and dry. 

Videos of opera performed outdoors at festivals and the like usually are disappointing in HDVD recordings. Sets, props, and directions that will look good to the distant live viewers too often look garish or crude close up and in HD. The biggest exception to this in earlier years was the Madama Butterfly at Sferisterio Opera Festival Macerata where the disigners were able to keep everything intimate even though it was done outdoors. Apparently Opera Australia found a different way to handle their outdoor production of La Traviata---instead of going intimate, they went gargantuan to the point of filling the sky with fireworks. I would not have thought this could work. But look at these (slightly edited) comments from the L'OperaDou Jury:

"Opera Australia’s production of “La Traviata” on Sydney Harbour was “stunning”, “magical”, “transcendental”, “enchanting”,  and “luminous.”  Our audiophile expert declared, “The sound engineer deserves a medal.”

Everyone was very much aware of the tremendous sense of occasion communicated by the grandiose production set against the iconic backdrop of the iconic Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and a glittering skyline. There was great praise from everyone for the cast, particularly Emma Matthews.  One of our Australian Jury members even said, “We thought that no one could ever rival Joan Sutherland… but I think Emma Matthews does.” Jonathan Summers as Germont was also singled out for special praise by several Jury members."

Jury quotes:

“Emma is superb and in fine voice. The setting is magical and I loved the fireworks! Congratulations to Sydney Opera, to the whole cast and production team!"

"Un régal au niveau des voix, de la mise en scéne, de l’orchestre et les décors. Emma Mattews est sublime."

“Congratulations on this amazing technical feat, the magical colours, the lights, the fireworks and the amazing décor with such an extraordinary backdrop. It was also a very emotional experience, particularly thanks to Emma Matthews and Jonathan Summers as Germont the father.”

The Jury then went on to give an "A+" grade.

Wow! What was Gordon serving at the bar? Could this production really be better than the HDVD productions we now have of La Traviata from La Scala, the Royal Opera House, and the Salzburg Festival? Well, maybe. After all, possibly the best HDVD we have now of Don Giovanni comes from Opera Australia.

Still, I don't interpret the Jury A+ verdict quite that way. I think the Jury was properly impressed by the event created by Opera Australia to show off their country and cultural accomplishments, and this event was hugely entertaining even to the picky Jury. And I think the singing, acting, and stage directing must also have been competitive with all the others. So if you think this kind of show would appeal to you or your friends, go for it.