Domingo, Damrau, and Pirgu Electrify in Metropolitan Opera's 'La Traviata'

The stage was set for what was billed as the hottest ticket of this operatic season. One could feel the energy in the air as the eager crowd arrived minutes before the doors to the auditorium were to be opened.

Numerous individuals were standing in the blistering cold wind seeking an extra ticket out by the fountain in Lincoln Center Plaza. StubHub showed prices as high as $600 per ticket in the family circle, and those went in minutes. The privileged few who had purchased their seats for face value over a year ago, this is what they have been waiting for, praying for, and eager to see. Ironically, the staging where a massive clock of our lives was quickly counting down to the time of death for Violeta Valery will now come to represent a timeless classic.

The 978th performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata speaks not only to the artistic masterpiece that this opera is, but to the incredible casts that it has attracted over the years, and to dramatic undercurrents of the timeless plot. A sickly young woman, who has everything in the world with the exception of love, finally finds someone who loves her and whom she loves. She knows that her time is running out and she decides to live with Alfredo Germon from party to party.

Living lavishly, she is quickly driving herself into bankruptcy and is slowly selling off the estate to meet her financial needs. One day the Alfredo Germon’s father, Giorgio, arrives in her house to demand that she abandon his son to preserve the honor of his family and sacrifice her happiness for that of his daughter who is to be married. Very reluctantly, she agrees and promises her one thing in return: Alfredo will not think or speak ill of her. As she is approaching death, alone and poor, she is comforted by her trusted servant, Annina, and Doctor Grenvil, who in this production personifies death. She is getting ready to meet the maker but believes that if Alfredo returns then his love, indeed their love, will cure her.

While the audience was prepared for yet another wonderful and consistently inspiring performance from the orchestra and chorus of the Metropolitan Opera, under the leadership of a young conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin, the audience was largely unmoved by the first act. Saimir Pirgu, who embodies the role of Alfredo, and Diana Damrau, who was our “fallen woman” Violeta, failed to emote any response despite a wonderful and tender start. The audience was waiting and anticipating the arrival of THE GREAT MAN: Placido Domingo.

At 72-years-old, one never knows if the remaining great tenor of an era gone by would make an appearance on the stage, and when he did in the second act you could hear the music stop, everyone took a deep breath, and then the room erupted in applause just because he took to the stage in a baritone role. The three leading voices showed why they are the best, but the presence of Domingo challenges Damrau and Pirgu to be even better.

Diana Damrau built her reputation and renown on her role as the Queen of the Night in the Magic Flute, by Walfgang Amadeus Mozart. The role requires her to hit high and low notes without transitions, and from the start some of those musical elements were present in Acts 1 and 2 of La Traviata. She was sharper rather than softer and exact with note strikes rather than transitioning to them desperately and softly.

She must have been on the edge, as despite an early entrance in her duet with Pirgu toward the later part of Act 1, she was good and the audience was lukewarm. However, she stepped up to the place and deliver remarkable duet with Domingo, carrying the notes of hope, desperation, and anger. In the third act she produced the most beautiful piece of music I will ever hear in my life, capturing both the prayers of hope and emotions of anger as she prepares to depart this world. She was outstanding in capturing the range of human emotions in one area.

Saimir Pirgu was wonderful as Alfredo Germon. He started a bit too gently in the first Act, but was prepared to face down his father in the second, and to commiserate with him on their misjudgments and missteps in their relationship with Violeta. He has the voice to be a great star and I am very much looking forward to seeing and hearing more of him on the stage of the Met.

THE GREAT MAN, Placido Domingo, may not be a true baritone, but he is THE GREAT MAN. Many critics who are far more sophisticated than I will say that he is no Thomas Hampson; that is indeed and indisputably true. However, Thomas Hampson is no Placido Domingo. His presence on the stage was electrifying to the audience and very fitting to the show. His understanding of what Alfredo was going through and the lines Alfredo was going sing connected the two men in a sincere relationship that a father and son share. Domingo is the father to every tenor today as he built upon the standard of the profession that was once entrusted to him by other legendary singers before him. His willingness to try new roles and perform with tomorrows greats is a testament to his character as an artist and a teacher.

It is useless to say that this is a must-see, as all the tickets have been sold. However, should you have some money stashed away and have any chance of purchasing day of standing tickets, you will not regret it for one second. This is a performance that will be a part of you and your every cell. After all, if one cannot experience love and be changed by love, why bother living as the clock counts down for us?