Written by: Alexander Campbell
The Classical Source once again brings you a handy guide to all ten of the Metropolitan Opera productions included in this season’s international broadcast series.
#7: La traviata
Who wrote it?
La traviata, one of the most popular of operas, was premiered at La Fenice in Venice in 1853 to a somewhat mixed reception. Based on the play La dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas (the younger), itself an adaptation, the text Verdi set is by one of his regular librettists Francesco Maria Piave.
The opera had a difficult inception because the management of La Fenice did not wish this story of a consumptive courtesan to be given a contemporary setting as Verdi had intended. Subsequently many operas with impoverished heroines dying of consumption became rather common! Verdi created some great roles in this work, and composed some of his most famous, although the technical demands are significant – and it may have been that the relative failure of the first performances was in part due to the singers not being up to the mark. Since then the roles of Violetta, Alfredo and Germont have attracted the world’s best artists.
What’s it about?
Violetta, a young and wealthy courtesan with many friends and admirers, is holding a party in Paris. There she meets a new admirer, Alfredo Germont, to the chagrin of her current lover Baron Douphol and to the amusement of her gossipy friends.
During the party she has a coughing fit which she brushes off, but Alfredo expresses his concern for her. She gives him a flower and promises to meet again the next day. After her guests leave she muses on this encounter, for it has touched her deeply, but then decides to continue living her life of freedom.
In the second Act we see the pair united as an unmarried couple living happily in the French countryside. Unknown to Alfredo they are living way beyond their means, and only Violetta’s selling of her assets is keeping them afloat. Violetta’s maid Annina reveals this to Alfredo and he rushes to Paris to prevent further sales. Violetta is surprised by a visitor who turns out to be Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont. He has come to ask Violetta to break up with his son as the scandal of their relationship is threatening the future marriage of his daughter. He tries to adopt the moral high-ground accusing Violetta of living off Alfredo – but when the true financial set-up is revealed he is shocked. He also becomes increasingly impressed by Violetta’s charm and honour. Nonetheless he asks for this sacrifice on her part and she agrees, warning him that Alfredo will not take it well. Giorgio makes himself scarce as Alfredo returns and finds Violetta distraught. She declares her love and rushes off leaving a letter for him explaining her decision. As he finds this his father enters and tries to calm him but to no avail. Alfredo finds an invitation from Flora in Paris and rushes off to confront Violetta, believing her to be reunited with the Baron. His father follows and arrives at Flora’s party to find that Alfredo has publically insulted Violetta and has been challenged to a duel by the Baron. Giorgio reprimands his son whilst Violetta simultaneously expresses her undying love for him.
The final Act sees an impoverished Violetta in a small room succumbing to the final ravages of tuberculosis, tended by Annina and Dr Grenvil, friends who have remained loyal. She reads a letter from Germont revealing that Alfredo survived the duel and that he will be returning to Paris now that he knows the truth about her sacrifice. She fears he will arrive too late, but then Alfredo does appear and is appalled by her condition. Germont also arrives and realises his part in her deterioration. Violetta appears to recuperate, imagining a return to health and a future with Alfredo before falling lifeless in his arms.
Look out for…
From the wistful quiet Prelude, tinged with premonition of the tragedy to unfold, Verdi’s score unfolds majestically, the three principals given great scope to flesh out their characters musically and dramatically. In Act One the famous numbers include the ebullient Brindisi’ (drinking-song) sung by Violetta and Alfredo with chorus, and Violetta’s ‘Sempre libera’ that concludes the Act with a dazzling coloratura flourish.
Act Two gives us Alfredo’s rapturous expression of happiness before his world crumbles. The Violetta-Germont encounter is a fine, Germont’s rather formal musical metres contrasting with the rather freer music of Violetta’s emotions. Her subsequent tearful parting from Alfredo should tug at the heartstrings – Verdi’s music at its most expressive.
The doom-laden Prelude of the final Act is notable, as is the touching resignation of Violetta’s aria. Verdi’s music by the time of La traviata and the other operas of the period (Rigoletto and Il trovatore) was gaining hugely in individuality and emotional impact, and his scoring was more inventive than before.
Who’s in it?
The title role is sung by the exciting Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva. There need be no worries about her technical abilities and she possesses a rich and dark vocal palette. She’s a great actress too! Michael Fabiano should be terrific as the ardent yet headstrong Alfredo, and Thomas Hampson will reprise the upright Giorgio Germont. Italian-opera specialist Nicola Luisotti conducts. The staging is by the innovative, sometimes challenging, director Willy Decker.
When’s it on?
If you are in New York City then the matinee is live at the Met itself. Otherwise it is broadcast to cinemas on Saturday March 11.