Is scandal such a tradition at opening nights at the Teatro alla Scala Milan that the loggione are forced to boo for the sake of booing? Last week, at La Traviata, they booed Piotr Beczala for the first time in his career. He was so shocked he vowed not to return. Good for him! It's about time someone stood up to the kind of mob who think it's their right to treat singers like gladiators,.
Beczala has sung Alfredo so many times that it's highly unlikely he'd do anything so bad it would justify being booed. Though Beczala has been better, he's so good that he always gives good value. Daniele Gatti's conducting was straightforward if uninspired. That's no crime. This was the house that raged against Callas and was pro and contra Muti with a vengeance.
Being a thorough professional, Beczala's initial reaction was to wonder why. Diana Damrau was cheered, so it can't just have been the production. He didn't "actually agree with the vision of my character by stage director, but I played it as good I could". No surprise in that either. Although Beczala's tastes are conservative, he has integrity. He triumphed in the "Ratpack" Rigoletto at the Met, transposed to Las Vegas. Dmitri Tcherniakov's La Traviata for La Scala was meek in comparison. For one thing, it wasn't really "modern dress". The set was traditional - casino with chandeliers, a country farmhouse, and a garret with big shuttered windows, as in the stage directions. The script also specifies the bottles of medicine around her. Annina has short red hair, but so what? The costumes were run of the mill evening dress, dull rather than shocking. Someone wears a Red Indian headress, another has a blonde afro. Silly, but daft rather than maddening. These are the "gypsies" who crash the gambling party to entertain, so perhaps we can allow them tacky taste.The real problem with this production is that it's clueless.
Diana Damrau doesn't look in the least bit tubercular. But how could anyone sing the death arias if they really were on the point of expiring? Violetta and Alfredo play about in a kitchen. Again, what's the big deal; they're doing a Petit Trianon out in the countryside, so why not? They're acting out a pastoral fantasy. When Germont (Zeljko Lucic) arrives, he's such a nice guy that Violetta knows where he's coming from. Damrau's healthy sturdiness suggest that maybe Violetta was once a girl from the countryside with simple values (hence the cooking). She's not a put upon victim or she'd never have risen to the top of her cut-throat profession.To her credit, Violetta can understand other people's perspectives, even if they're not her own.
The "Traviata" syndrome is certainly not confined by place and time. Puccini's La Rondine deals with a similar theme. Even today, many families would be upset if their young son took up with an older ex-prostitute. Provincials like famille Germont are just more conservative than the racy folk Violetta hangs out with. Human nature doesn't really change. There always will be people scared of what others will think, and people like Violetta who care about others more about themselves.Like most of Tcherniakov's work, La Traviata isn't offensive except to extremists and those who boo for the pleasure of hating. But, apart from the singing, it's boring.