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Opera Essentials: La traviata

A quick guide to Verdi's heartbreaking tragedy.

By Kate Hopkins (Opera and Music Publications Officer)

14 April 2014 at 3.22pm | Comment on this article

The Story Begins…

When Alfredo Germont tells the beautiful courtesan Violetta he loves her, she feels that a new and happy life is beginning. But can their relationship survive the disapproval of Alfredo’s father, and the relentless progress of Violetta’s tuberculosis?

Public and Private

Richard Eyre’s production, a favourite in the Royal Opera repertory, brings the lavish world of the 19th-century Parisian demi-monde to life in two spectacular party scenes, but also provides a sensitive portrayal of Violetta’s personal tragedy. There are scenes of powerful intimacy, particularly Violetta’s Act II dialogue with Germont, and her reunion with Alfredo in Act III.

A Legendary Courtesan 

Verdi’s inspiration for La traviata was the play La Dame aux camélias, by Alexandre Dumas fils, adapted by Dumas from his novel of the same name. In turn, Dumas fils used a real life courtesan, Marie Duplessis, as the model for his heroine. Duplessis was a striking, gentle and cultivated woman, the mistress and friend of several important men, including the composer Franz Liszt. Like Violetta, she died very young of tuberculosis.

An Opera of Contrasts

In La traviata, large-scale, brilliant choruses and ensembles (such as the Act I Brindisi and the gypsy and matador choruses in Act II scene 2) contrast with introspective arias and intimate duets for the principal characters. Violetta’s vocal style reflects her deepening experiences of both love and suffering, her flamboyant aria ‘Sempre libera’ in Act I contrasting with the gentle, melancholy ‘Addio, del passato’ in Act III.

Growing Enthusiasm

La traviata received a mixed reception at its premiere – largely due to the half-hearted singing of the original Alfredo and Germont, as well as audience criticism of the original Violetta’s appearance. However, the opera’s second production in 1854 was a success, and since then La traviata has enjoyed a triumphant career. It is currently the most-performed opera in the international repertory, and is performed by The Royal Opera at least every other Season.

La traviata runs 19 April–20 May 2014. Tickets are still available.
The production is generously supported by Rolex, with generous philanthropic support from Quentin Holland.

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