Verdi: La Traviata - Kleiber
Deutsche Grammophon 477 077-2 (2 discs)
Classical - Opera
Verdi: La Traviata
Carlos Kleiber (conductor)
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Review by John Miller - June 25, 2010
DGG gave this much-fêted Traviata from 1976-77 a face-lift in 2004 with a 96kHz/24bit treatment of its original analogue masters. PCM stereo and 5.1 multichannel tracks are available on the pair of hybrid discs, which come with the full Italian libretto, English translation, notes about Kleiber's approach and a synopsis of the plot.
The real star of this set is Carlos Kleiber himself. He sweeps aside much of the maudlin sentimentality and vocal dalliances which tend to have accreted on this most beloved of Verdi's operas. The central drama of a relationship between a Parisian courtesan suffering from the final stages of consumption and a new young lover of lower social order is tautly presented. He follows the arc of action unerringly from Violetta's Parisian salon full of gay social events to final expiration in her boudoir after a brief but timely reunion with her lover Alfredo. Kleiber worked intensively with the Bayerisches Staats Orchester, and the new recording's fidelity demonstrates their committment and responsiveness admirably. Often one takes little notice of an orchestra's role in opera, but here, Verdi's almost symphonic style and inventive orchestration shines with unprecedented clarity and detail.
The new multichannel transfer opens up the glamorous acoustic of the Munich Bürgerbräu-Keller, with the orchestra just behind the singers. The players have a good stage width and depth, and Verdi's often chamber-like textures are quite ravishing. Celebratory and dramatic moments are captured with great power, yet have much colourful detail. Overall, instrumental sound is excellent, with sweet and rich string sound, stirring brass and well-blended woodwinds. The only real issues are a somewhat limited lower bass, and a tendency for the tone of some closely-miked singers to harden slightly under pressure. Timid use of the extra channels by the producers (Alfredo singing from the "balcony" of the right surround channel in Act I, passage of the off-stage carnival from right to left surround in Act III) adds some interest. The real advantage of multichannel sound comes from the depth of the front stage, giving the illusion of appropriate character movements within that space, together with the enclosing ambience.
While Kleiber is poised and deliberate with Traviata's famous exquisite preludes to Acts I and III (the latter attenuated and evanescent in the light of Violetta's fragile health), he is crisp and pacy with the progress of the action. Interactions between characters are snappily executed, and conversational exchanges seem far less stilted and unnatural than usual. Kleiber is also masterful with the ensembles and choral items, where Verdi's astonishing use of polyphony is a treat for the ear.
The cast is a fine one, with Ileana Cotrubas one of the most affecting Violettas; not quite the ultimate character such as Callas or Scotto, but tonally pure, clear in diction and utterly heart-breaking in the final act. Domingo's Alfredo is rather generalised; at this stage of his career he was more concerned with beauty (and quantity) of tone rather than deep characterisation. However, he does do "ardent" and "angry" very well. Overshadowing him as a believable personality is Sherrill Milnes as Georgio Germont, (Alfredo's father) wonderfully cast, with great gentlemanly nobility and fatherly patience when he plays off Violetta and his errant son.
Since the SACD layer offers a smoother, more detailed and atmospheric sound than the RBCD edition, and brings out the fire and passion of Kleiber's direction so well, it is well worth acquiring. The sound only shows its age in one or two areas, although due to the period's multichannel setup it lacks the ultimate transparency and solidity of sound-stage such as now produced by Pentatone, Channel and several other smaller companies. Unlike other DGG, Phillips and Decca back-catalogue SACD issues, it can still be obtained from some outlets at a normal price, rather than the silly money charged for many of its companions.Still highly recommendable after all these years.
Copyright © 2010 John Miller and HRAudio.net