Natalie Dessay is an artist whom I admire greatly for her singing, acting, intelligence and musicianship. This performance is ample reason why. Here is a well-sung and compelling acted performance of one of opera's more challenging roles. At times I thought her characterization was a bit edgy - on the verge in a manner more suited to Lucia than to Violetta - but, still, it's a thoughtful and valid portrayal. Her singing is technically brilliant (as in "Sempre libera") and deeply moving ("Addio del passato") where needed. I was particularly pleased that she takes both verses of both her arias. The last several performances of I've seen in the theatre have used these erstwhile traditional cuts.
Miss Dessay is well-matched in the Alfredo of Charles Castronovo. He has a pleasing lyric voice and shows a commendable empathy for a not altogether sympathetic character. His singing is tasteful and involved, though he does come close to losing the high C at the end of his second act cabaletta.
The most serious drawback to this performance is the Giorgio Germont of Ludovic Tezier. To my ears, at least, his voice is dry and colourless and his technique a bit dicey. Add to this that he shows about as much emotion as if he were singing listings from the telephone directory and you'll understand the damage he does in the great second act scena with Violetta. He's no better in his briefer appearances later in the opera.
Even the comprimarios are a pretty sorry lot. It's obvious why these persons are singing with the principals and not as the principals. Perhaps Mr. Tezier would have been better with them.
The updated setting adds nothing to the work and detracts slightly from it. I'd like the opera to be about persons who are a bit more sophisticated than the bottle-chugging partiers in the first scenes of the first and second acts. The pointless, though pleasant, choruses of gypsies and matadors in Act 2, Scene 2 seem even more pointless than usual. Perhaps worst is Violetta's standing-up death, followed by a little stroll across the stage after she's been pronounced dead.
On the whole, I would recommend this only for Miss Dessay's Violetta with some additional enjoyment from Mr Castronovo's Alfredo. As a first, or only, DVD of this opera, I'd go with the Georg Solti version from Covent Garden.