Verdi-La Traviata (Royal Opera, Covent Garden) (1995) (NTSC)

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Released 4-Jun-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Booklet
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1995
Running Time 134:12
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (74:40) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Humphrey Burton
Peter Maniura
Richard Eyre
Studio
Distributor
Decca
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Angela Gheorghiu
Frank Lopardo
Leo Nucci
Case Flexbox
RPI $36.95 Music Giuseppe Verdi


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Italian Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Chinese
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    "Defying the problems of recording opera live at Covent Garden, the Decca engineers here offer one of the most vivid and involving versions ever of La Traviata, full and immediate in sound. In a magnetic reading Solti treats the piece, not with his old fierceness, but with refinement and tenderness as well as emotional weight from the ravishingly hushed opening of the Prelude onwards.... As on stage, Gheorghiu brings heartfelt revelations, using her rich and vibrant, finely shaded soprano with consistent subtlety. Youthfully vivacious in the first Act, dazzling in her coloratura, she already reveals the depths of feeling which compel her later self-sacrifice". Whilst I would love to say I wrote these words, I did not. They come from The Penguin Guide To Compact Discs in the edition published in 1999, and are some of their glowing words about the compact disc version of this recording, which has been awarded their highest accolade of a rosette. The compact disc version is an edited performance taken from several performances recorded by Decca in December, 1994. This video version is an integral performance recorded at the same time.

    All the above serves to say that this is one of the great Traviatas of all time. Indeed, this seems to be one of those rare occasions when just about everyone agrees on the point as well, and many will claim that this is the greatest Traviata of all time. As you will possibly recall, there is already one DVD of the opera available in Region 4 and thus I shall borrow my own synopsis from that review.

    The broad synopsis? Basically lost love - and where would opera be without that little topic? Set in Paris around 1840, the story begins in the house of Violetta Valéry (Angela Gheorghiu), where she is holding a party. Amongst the guests is one Alfredo Germont (Frank Lopardo), who is, to put it quite bluntly, madly in love with Violetta. So, when he is introduced to her, Violetta's usual escort in Baron Douphol (Richard Van Allan) gets just a little jealous. When all the rest of the guests hit the dance floor, Violetta stays away to recover from a dizzy spell, where she is confronted by Alfredo who professes his undying love for her. Since Violetta is a woman who has made a habit of enjoying the company of men in rather non-serious liaisons, she does not know how to react to the words of Alfredo. However, she is taken enough to ask him to return to see her. Act 2 sees the action jumping ahead a few months, with Violetta and Alfredo happily enjoying a relationship in a country home. This idyllic little situation is promptly ruined by the appearance of Alfredo's dear old dad Giorgio (Leo Nucci), who thinks that Alfredo is tossing away the family fortune to keep up this relationship with Violetta. When he discovers that it is actually Violetta who is tossing away her fortune, he concocts a lovely story to implore Violetta to dump Alfredo and let him return to the family. She promptly does this and returns to Paris to attend a party given by Flora (Leah-Marian Jones). Beside himself with anger, Alfredo follows with the intent of being as vindictive as possible towards Violetta. Lots of nasty things are said and done at Flora's little bash, which sees Alfredo and Violetta completely unreconciled. Act 3 sees the action return to Violetta's bedroom where she is dying, longing for reconciliation with Alfredo. News arrives that Alfredo is coming as he has found out what is dear old dad has done and is determined to rekindle the flames of love. Naturally they do, except it is all a bit late and the usual melodramatic operatic ending is tossed up for our pleasure.

    This stunning performance of the opera lives upon two people. Sir Georg Solti has made some fine opera recordings over the years with Decca, most notably the definitive version of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. This would have to rank amongst the better efforts of that collaboration over the years, and this is a gloriously handled piece of music by the maestro. Adopting a lovely pace to the music, it is not an overly melodramatic performance but a wonderfully romantic effort that moves at a slightly slower pace than the other version available in R4, but all the more enjoyable because of it. However, even as good as the musical performance is, it is completely overshadowed by the wonderful performance of Angela Gheorghiu. Not exactly a household name at the time, this role at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden catapulted her to the top of the operatic tree virtually overnight. It is easy to see and hear why. Magnificent singing from start to finish, she draws out every emotion possible from this libretto. Add to that the fact that she is no slouch as an operatic actress either, and is not bad-looking to boot, and she becomes almost the perfect embodiment of Violetta amongst the modern generation of normally lacklustre singers. Act 1 is about as good as I have ever heard for this opera, and there is no significant drop off in quality all the way through. I will admit that such is the beauty of her performance that it did evoke a couple of tears as the melodramatic ending reaches its conclusion. The other major role in the opera is of course Alfredo, and whilst Frank Lopardo has a heck of a job to compete with Angela Gheorghiu, he does a pretty fine job overall.

    I have avoided the compact disc version of the opera for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the cost of buying it. To have the whole opera on a single DVD at a much more reasonable price is pure joy. If you like romantic opera, or indeed just fine opera performances, then this is an absolutely essential purchase on performance grounds alone. If you want to test the waters with "serious" opera, then this DVD is probably a fine place to start.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a slightly less than stellar transfer. The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format and is not 16x9 enhanced. A real shame that this was not recorded in widescreen, as I bet it would have looked superb in a 16x9 enhanced widescreen format. You should note however that this is an NTSC formatted DVD and therefore you will need to have a display device capable of playing this signal in order to see anything.

    The overall transfer is nicely sharp and generally well detailed, and the only letdown is a couple of minor lapses in focus such as at 19:50. These are hardly any sort of distraction however in the overall excellence of this gorgeously vibrant looking transfer. Bucking the trend towards completely spartan sets, this production is blessed with some reasonable sets and they come up pretty well in the overall transfer. Shadow detail is less than stellar, reflecting I suspect the way the production was stage lit. There are too many instances where foreground blacks merged with background blacks, which does detract just a little from the overall feel of the opera. However, the most serious problem with the transfer is the presence of consistent grain throughout. Some of this may just be inherent in this being an NTSC transfer, but not all of the grain can be so blamed upon the format. The larger slatted set in Act 3 plays havoc with the transfer. Clarity suffers a little as a result of the consistently, albeit slightly, grainy look. There did not appear to be any low level noise problems in the transfer.

    This is a really gorgeous looking transfer, wonderfully saturated such that the interior shots of the magnificent Covent Garden opera house look better than I have ever seen before. Naturally, the stage lighting does occasionally wash out a bit of the colour, but that is not entirely unexpected and not the problem of the transfer. The blacks here have a stunning depth to them and there is a consistent solidity of tone throughout. There is no oversaturation in the transfer, but the opening Decca logo is somewhat oversaturated. There is no colour bleed in the transfer.

    Sounds pretty good so far, doesn't it? Well, now we hit the problems. There are some rather noticeable MPEG artefacts in the transfer, most notably some pixelization in the chairs during Act 2 (see 33:25 and from 44:55 to 45:00) which is rather difficult to ignore. There is also some pixelization in the background at times, most notably during Act 3 in those large slatted sets. There is some consistent if not especially notable aliasing in the transfer at times: the most notable example is in Act 1 where the circular sofa in the centre of the set tends to shimmer a bit. There is also the obligatory aliasing in the violin strings at 3:34. Apart from that, there is nothing much in the way of film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. There are no problems with film artefacts in the transfer.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming in the break between Scenes 1 and 2 in Act 2 at 74:40.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two soundtracks on the DVD, being an Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an Italian Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 soundtrack. The latter is the default soundtrack on the DVD and whilst I sampled it, I predominantly listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

    The vocals come up very well in the transfer, although there is naturally quite a wide range in the dynamics here, from really soft to some serious high notes. There did not appear to be any audio sync problems with the transfer.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a rather delightful example of surround encoding, and there is a rather nice encompassing sound here that really is very noticeable when you switch from the straight forward Linear PCM soundtrack. The result is a soundscape that is rather delightful and quite reminiscent of the overall sound experienced at a theatre with the stereo effect coming from the reflected sound. The only slight issue with the soundtrack is a slight heaviness in the bass early on in the opera, during the Prelude mainly. It is not really boomy and does not really detract significantly from the opera. Apart from that, this is a nice example of the sort of lavish sounds that Decca have always brought to their opera recordings. The soundtrack is free from any distortion or other imperfections.

    The Linear PCM 2.0 soundtrack is a nice sounding effort, quite crisp and clear although obviously lacking the exquisite presence that is afforded the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Based upon the extended samplings I listened to, there is nothing wrong at all with the soundtrack. A good and pretty much typical example of a Linear PCM soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Apart from a decent booklet, there is nothing else on offer on the DVD.

Menu

    Since the DVD starts straight into the opera and just stops straight after the opera, you would barely know that there actually is a menu on the DVD.

Booklet

    Whilst it provides a decent track listing and synopsis, the lack of a libretto is a serious downer, especially as there are no Italian subtitles on the DVD.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Since this is an all Region coded NTSC DVD, it seems reasonable to assume that this is the same as the Region 1 release in every way.

Summary

    Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata is a good romantic opera, but this performance propels it into the stratosphere as far as excellence is concerned. You are unlikely to see or hear a better effort than this in nearly all respects, and thus it is marginally disappointing that the video transfer has some problems. However, such is the excellence of the overall performance that I am more than willing to overlook these imperfections to enjoy one of the best La Traviata's that I am ever likely to see. It leaves the previously released version well and truly trailing in its wake.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, July 10, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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