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WQXR Features

That Was Then: Zeffirelli on La Traviata

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On New Year’s eve, the Met unveiled a new production of Verdi’s La Traviata, featuring a pared-down set that frames a burning Violetta in a bright red dress.

The Willy Decker production first premiered in Salzburg in 2005 to great acclaim, and this season it replaces the Met’s staple production by director Franco Zeffirelli, whose vision had been a lavish, ornately decorated affair and a mainstay of the house.

Under the direction of general manager Peter Gelb, the Met has steadily begun reviewing—and in some cases replacing—productions by the famous Italian director. In 2009, when the Met replaced Zeffirelli’s Tosca with a new production by French director Luc Bondy, audiences were loudly divided. “I was scandalized that they were so scandalized,” said Bondy at New York Public Library talk following the derisive premiere. “I didn’t realize Tosca was the Bible!”

While the trials and travails of new productions are no secret, the Met’s new Traviata signals another retirement in the Zeffirelli collection—and another round of close scrutiny for the Met. So to help frame the debate, we’ve reached back into our vaults for an archival 1983 radio broadcast with Zeffirelli. In this 1983 episode from the series “Great Artists,” host Bob Sherman sits down with Zeffirelli to discuss his film version of La Traviata, the rich grandeur that opera requires, and the wisdom of “certain liberties.”