I booked to see this opera primarily to see Anna Netrebko, whom I had seen last year light up the stage at the Barbican performing arias and duets with Rolando Villazó*. This decision was vindicated when many reviewers and, in particular, Edward Seckerson in this newspaper gave the production five stars and said that "the five stars belong to Anna Netrebko". The last Violetta to cause such a stir was Angela Gheorghiu. So far, so good. As is well documented, however, Netrebko cancelled her next performances. Violetta is a victim of tuberculosis, so it was ironic that she cancelled owing to bronchitis.
Her replacement was Ermonela Jaho, who made her professional debut as Violetta in Albania, aged 17, and has subsequently sung the role at a host of opera houses across Europe. So she knows her Violetta. Reviews of her performance as replacement in this production at Covent Garden were favourable, but not ecstatic in the way that Netrebko's were. And there's the rub. While Jaho ticked all the boxes and performed admirably, Act One's party scene fell flat. Netrebko's star quality and charisma that illuminated the Barbican were missing. She did, however, fulfil expectorations – ahem! – in Act Three, as she succumbed to the terrible disease. Indeed, many people in the audience also seemed to have contracted it during the performance, as her coughs echoed round the auditorium.
The other principals were Jonas Kaufmann as Alfredo and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Père Germont. Kaufmann had impressed in Carmen here last year and he was equally comfortable in this role, betrayed by his father rather than his lover. He has the looks and acts well and his opening aria in Act Two was wonderfully controlled. He has also recorded an award-winning CD of Richard Strauss pieces, so he has a wide and multilingual repertoire. He is a star in the making. Already a star, Hvorostovsky sang beautifully. But he was rather wooden in his gorgeous Act Two duets with Jaho. It was difficult to distinguish whether this was a great representation of an unsympathetic father-in-law or he is a graduate of the Roger Moore school of acting.
The production is the well-worn Richard Eyre model, revived by Patrick Young. It serves the opera well. Specifically, the set of the party scene is a wonder of architectural invention that permits the large cast of party-goers to come and go with ease.
A good night out, but not a great one.
To 14 Feb (020-7304 4000)
David Hasell, Supply Chain Innovation Analyst, Thames Ditton, SurreyReuse content