ioletta was one of Sills’s best roles. She may not have been ideal visually, but in this 1976 Wolf Trap production she looks glamorous and sophisticated, and she moves with a naturalness that makes her co-stars appear awkward. Her face is always expressive, and her timbre has an intrinsic pathos appropriate to the character. She has no trouble, of course, with the coloratura of the first act, and she can waft the slow, gentle phrases of ‘Dite alla giovine’ and ‘Addio del passato’ ethereally aloft. Once or twice (”Amami, Alfredo”). I wished the voice had more body. and she sometimes flattens her vowels in an American way, but her words are always lucid and keenly projected.
Henry Price has a supple, softgrained tenor. appealing in itself, but its dearth of penetrating power robs it of passion. When you see Violetta and Alfredo in close-up, you wonder (and here’s the problem with video opera) what this mature, confident woman sees in such a callow young man. Fredricks, made up to look like an old man in a school play, sings sturdily and stolidly, but that suits the part. In supporting roles are some singers who would go on to bigger things: Neil Rosenshein as Gastone, John Cheek as Grenvil.
Rudel conducts without much fire, but he’s considerate of his singers. He takes the traditional cuts. The stage settings, borrowed from the San Diego opera, are evocative enough: a few elaborate props sparely placed against painted backdrops. The audience applauds each time the curtain rises.
Before it begins, we get a quick tour of Wolf Trap, a spoken introduction from Sills, a synopsis of Act 1, and lots of ‘Sempre libera’ in the background. The conductor’s head keeps on bobbing up at the bottom of the screen, but the video quality is still better than the constricted, slightly distorted mono sound. As pure film, this Traviata is far less beautiful than Zeffirelli’s, but it’s more satisfying musically.