2013 is coming to an end and we are going to remember the BEST of this year: Verdi vs Wagner, the Operas!
Celebrating Verdi’s bicentennial!
“La Traviata” is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.
It is based on La dame aux Camélias (1852), a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils.
The opera was originally entitled Violetta, after the main character. It was first performed on 6 March 1853 at the La Fenice opera house in Venice.
Piave and Verdi wanted to follow Dumas in giving the opera a contemporary setting, but the authorities at La Fenice insisted that it be set in the past, “c. 1700”.
It was not until the 1880s that the composer and librettist’s original wishes were carried out and “realistic” productions were staged.
When back at Sant’Agata in late January 1853 Verdi was reminded that his contract called for him to be in Venice within a week or two and for the premiere to be held on the “first Saturday in March 1853”.
Coincidentally, as Philips-Matz points out, the Italian translation of the play La Dame aux camélias was being presented just a short distance from La Fenice.
While there were demands for productions from impresarios in various Italian cities, Verdi was loath to allow them unless he could be sure of the strength of the singers, and in spite of their pleas, the composer refused. As Budden notes, it came to be Venice “that made an honest woman of Violetta” when Verdi allowed a performance at the Teatro San Benedetto. Some revisions took place between 1853 and May 1854, mostly affecting acts 2 and 3, but the opera was given again on 6 May 1854 and was a great success, largely due to Maria Spezia-Aldighieri’s portrayal of Violetta. “Then (referring to the La Fenice performances) it was a fiasco; now it has created a furore. Draw your own conclusions!” reported Piave (who had overseen the production in Verdi’s absence).
The opera (in the revised version) was first performed in Vienna on 4 May 1855 in Italian. It was first performed in England on 24 May 1856 in Italian at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, where it was considered morally questionable, and “the heads of the Church did their best to put an injunction upon performance; the Queen refrained from visiting the theatre during the performances, though the music, words and all, were not unheard at the palace”.
The opera was first performed in France on 6 December 1856 in Italian by the Théâtre-Italien at the Salle Ventadour in Paris, and on 27 October 1864 in French as Violetta (an adaptation by Édouard Duprez, older brother of the tenor Gilbert Duprez) at the Théâtre Lyrique on the Place du Châtelet with Christina Nilsson in the title role.
20th century and beyond
Today, the opera has become immensely popular and is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire. As of 2012/13 season, it was in first place on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide.
Place: Paris and its vicinity.
Time: Beginning of the 18th century
The salon in Violetta’s house
Violetta Valéry, a famed courtesan, throws a lavish party at her Paris salon to celebrate her recovery from an illness. Gastone, a count, has brought with him a friend, the young nobleman Alfredo Germont, who has long adored Violetta from afar. While walking to the salon, Gastone tells Violetta that Alfredo loves her, and that while she was ill, he came to her house every day. Alfredo joins them, admitting the truth of Gastone’s remarks.
Baron Douphol, Violetta’s current lover, waits nearby to escort her to the salon; once there, the Baron is asked to give a toast, but refuses, and the crowd turns to Alfredo, who agrees to sing a Brindisi – a drinking song (Alfredo, Violetta, chorus: Libiamo ne’ lieti calici – “Drink from the joyful cup”).
After the guests leave, Violetta wonders if Alfredo could actually be the one in her life (Violetta: Ah, fors’è lui – “Ah, perhaps he is the one”). But she concludes that she needs freedom to live her life (Violetta: Sempre libera – “Always free”). From off stage, Alfredo’s voice is heard singing about love as he walks down the street.
Scene 1: Violetta’s country house outside Paris
Alfredo is shocked to learn this and leaves for Paris immediately to settle matters himself. Violetta returns home and receives an invitation from her friend, Flora, to a party in Paris that evening. Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, is announced and demands that she break off her relationship with his son for the sake of his family, since he reveals that Violetta’s relationship with Alfredo has threatened his daughter’s engagement (Giorgio: Pura siccome un angelo – “Pure as an angel, God gave a daughter”) because of Violetta’s reputation. Meanwhile, he reluctantly becomes impressed by Violetta’s nobility, something which he did not expect from a courtesan. She responds that she cannot end the relationship because she loves him so much, but Giorgio pleads with her for the sake of his family. With growing remorse, she finally agrees (Violetta, Giorgio: Dite alla giovine sì bella e pura, – “Tell the young girl, so beautiful and pure,”) and says goodbye to Giorgio. In a gesture of gratitude for her kindness and sacrifice, Giorgio kisses her forehead before leaving her weeping alone.
Violetta gives a note to Annina to send to Flora accepting the party invitation and, as she is writing a farewell letter to Alfredo, he enters. She can barely control her sadness and tears; she tells him repeatedly of her unconditional love (Violetta: Amami, Alfredo, amami quant’io t’amo – “Love me, Alfredo, love me as I love you”). Before rushing out and setting off for Paris, she hands the farewell letter to her servant to give to Alfredo.
Soon, the servant brings the letter to Alfredo and, as soon as he has read it, Giorgio returns and attempts to comfort his son, reminding him of his family in Provence (Giorgio: Di Provenza il mar, il suol chi dal cor ti cancellò? – “Who erased the sea, the land of Provence from your heart?”). Alfredo suspects that the Baron is behind his separation with Violetta, and the party invitation, which he finds on the desk, strengthens his suspicions. He determines to confront Violetta at the party. Giorgio tries to stop Alfredo, but he rushes out.
Violetta arrives with Baron Douphol. They see Alfredo at the gambling table. When he sees them, Alfredo loudly proclaims that he will take Violetta home with him. Feeling annoyed, the Baron goes to the gambling table and joins him in a game. As they bet, Alfredo wins some large sums until Flora announces that supper is ready. Alfredo leaves with handfuls of money.
As everyone is leaving the room, Violetta has asked Alfredo to see her. Fearing that the Baron’s anger will lead him to challenge Alfredo to a duel, she gently asks Alfredo to leave. Alfredo misunderstands her apprehension and demands that she admit that she loves the Baron. In grief, she makes that admission and, furiously, Alfredo calls the guests to witness what he has to say (Questa donna conoscete? – “You know this woman?”). He humiliates and denounces Violetta in front of the guests and then throws his winnings at her feet in payment for her services. She faints onto the floor. The guests reprimand Alfredo: “Di donne ignobile insultatore, di qua allontanati, ne desti orror!” (“Ignoble insulter of women, go away from here, you fill us with horror!”).
In search of his son, Giorgio enters the hall and, knowing the real significance of the scene, denounces his son’s behavior (Giorgio, Alfredo, Violetta, chorus: Di sprezzo degno sè stesso rende chi pur nell’ira la donna offende. – “A man, who even in anger, offends a woman renders himself deserving of contempt.”).
Flora and the ladies attempt to persuade Violetta to leave the dining room, but Violetta turns to Alfredo: Alfredo, Alfredo, di questo core non puoi comprendere tutto l’amore… – “Alfredo, Alfredo, you can’t understand all the love in this heart…”.
Dr. Grenvil tells Annina that Violetta will not live long since her tuberculosis has worsened. Alone in her room, Violetta reads a letter from Alfredo’s father telling her that the Baron was only wounded in his duel with Alfredo; that he has informed Alfredo of the sacrifice she has made for him and his sister; and that he is sending his son to see her as quickly as possible to ask for her forgiveness. But Violetta senses it is too late (Violetta: Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti – “Farewell, lovely, happy dreams of the past”).
Annina rushes in the room to tell Violetta of Alfredo’s arrival. The lovers are reunited and Alfredo suggests that they leave Paris (Alfredo, Violetta: Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo – “We will leave Paris, O beloved”).
But it is too late: she knows her time is up (Alfredo, Violetta: Gran Dio!…morir sì giovane – “Great God!…to die so young”). Alfredo’s father enters with the doctor, regretting what he has done. After singing a duet with Alfredo, Violetta suddenly revives, exclaiming that the pain and discomfort have left her. A moment later, she dies in Alfredo’s arms.