Using a libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave, a frequent collaborator, Giuseppe Verdi composed the score for this tragic opera in the months before its premiere in Venice in 1853. The story comes from a play by Alexandre Dumas.
I had the privilege to see a production of this opera during the summer of 2007 in Verona, Italy, where many of my relatives live. This is truly a stunning venue–picture the Roman Colosseum, but far more intact and about two-thirds the size–and I had seen Nabucco there twice and, on another occasion the first act of Carmen before rain ended the performance. For those performances, I sat far from the stage because tickets are in high demand, and the good seats go fast. This time, however, one of my relatives had a connection, and I sat with my wife at the time and my parents, perhaps ten rows from the front. It is one of the most vivid and moving memories of my life.
La Traviata relates the story of Violetta, a Parisian courtesan, who suffers from chronic tuberculosis. At a party after her recovery from a severe bout, a young bourgeois suitor named Alfredo wins her heart, and she eventually gives up her lavish lifestyle to live with him in the country. Just as the couple begin to settle into a life of love for and devotion to each other, Alfredo’s father Giorgio turns up while his son is away from the home. He informs Violetta that Alfredo’s relationship with her has jeopardized his daughter’s engagement to a man from a respected family. Giorgio appeals to her sense of pity for his innocent daughter and asks her to break off the relationship. She agrees to do so and returns to the city.
At the next party in Paris, Alfredo, heartbroken and enraged that Violetta has taken up with a new protector, runs up massive winnings at the gambling tables. When Violetta attempts to explain her actions, Alfredo throws his winnings at her feet in payment for services rendered. This earns him the condemnation of all the guests present, including his father, who has come to the gathering in order to seek Alfredo out.
In the final act, Violetta nears the end of her final battle with her disease. She reads a letter of apology from Giorgio, who informs her that he has explained everything to Alfredo and has rushed him off to see her. The two lovers unite at the last possible moment, and Violetta passes away.
This opera presents a forceful, excruciating lesson with regard to love: Circumstances can sometimes obscure from one lover the anguish and sentiments of the other. True love must always include an element of faith; otherwise, tragedy can result.
Alfredo, Violetta, and Chorus, “Libiamo, nè liete calici” (the famous brindisi)
Alfredo and Violetta, “Un dì, felice, eterea”
Gypsy and Matador choruses
Violetta, “Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti”
Cover photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
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