La Traviata - Giuseppe Verdi - Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

On 22 May 2001 I went to the ROH to see Verdi's tragic opera La Traviata (The Fallen Woman). The libretto is by Francesco Piave written after the novel and play La Dame aux camelias by Alexandre Dumas. Dumas's Marguerite Gautier, herself based on the Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis who died of consumption at the age of 23. When Verdi visited Paris in 1852 this play was the sensation of the season, drawing full houses every night. Rumour has it that the story was taken from Dumas' own private life, describing his relationship with Duplessis one of most notorious figures of the Parisian "demimonde". He admitted, later, that the first part of the story was, in fact, autobiographical.

Briefly, the story tells of a young and beautiful, but penniless girl (known in the play as Marguerite Gautier and in the opera as Violetta Valery) who comes to Paris and falls into doubtful society. Although surrounded by luxury and riches, she abandons all this when a young man falls deeply in love with her and she with him. Later, she gives him up because she sees that her past reputation is damaging towards his social position. She disappears from his life and dies of consumption. The opera was first performed at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice in 1853, which was practically laughed off the stage as the singer who was portraying the character of Violetta - someone supposedly dying of consumption - was a very stout, hearty-looking woman; also, for some reason, they didn't like the music. After the premiere Verdi wrote to a friend, "Am I or the singers to blame for this? The future will decide. " However, the following year it was again performed in Venice, at the Teatro San Benedetto. This time the opera was a success.

The Prelude to Art one is a famous piece of music in it own right.

Act I, Scene 1. Violetta Valery's Salon. A party is in full swing at Violetta's salon. An admirer (Alfredo Germon) seizes a glass of champagne and sings a spirited Drinking Song: "the glass let us till to the brim and then raise it to the lady whose loveliness claims our praise. . . ". Alfredo invites Violetta to dance but after a few steps she is seized by a fit of coughing and has to sit down. He declares his love for her and they sing a duet. Violetta gives him her favourite flower, a camellia, and promises that she will see him again when it has faded. The guests depart and Violetta realises that she longs to meet Alfredo again: for the first time she understands what real love is: "Ah, forse lui" ("Ah, was it he of whom I dreamed. . ")

Act 2, Scene 1. Villa outside Paris. Violetta and Alfredo have three months of happiness away from the social whirl of Paris. Alfredo is deeply in love and rejoices in his passion of Violetta, singing, "After a wild unruly life by reckless passions guided, she brought me back to peace and calm. . . . " He learns from the chambermaid that Violetta is going to sell her jewels, to meet their expenses. In haste he goes off to Paris to raise money to repay her. A visitor arrives - it is Alfredo's father, George Germont. He asks Violetta to let Alfredo go as he says the affair is ruining his son financially. She denies this and shows him proof that she has been selling her jewels. This makes some impression on him but he is still anxious about his son's future - she is after all a notorious courtesan, she breaks out in desperation "and God has cleansed my soul through my repentance". "I have two children", Germont goes on remorselessly "and their happiness depends on you. My young daughter is to be married, but the engagement may be broken off unless Alfredo is freed from the liaison and the family name saved from this scandal". Violetta is in despair at the choice before her and she agrees to Germont's demand. Full of gratitude and deeply moved Germont begins to look upon her more benevolently. When Alfredo returns Violetta has left. He knows nothing about what has gone on and thinks she has merely gone to visit someone. But after she has gone a messenger brings a letter saying that she is going to resume her former life in Paris. Alfredo is stunned. His father tries to console him and reminds him of his happy childhood and his beloved home in Provence. Alfredo then finds the note inviting Violetta to Flora's party and rushes off in a frenzy of jealousy and revenge.

Act 2, Scene 2. A salon in the house of Flora Bervoix. The party is in full swing when Violetta arrives escorted by Baron Duphol and Violetta says that she has promised never to see Alfredo again but will not name his father and says it was Baron Duphol who forced her decision. The ethereal introductory Prelude is heard once again.

Act 3 Violetta's bedroom. Violetta lies desperately ill, the doctor and a nurse attending her. She whispers to her maid Annina that she has not long to live. A letter arrives from old Germont. He writes that he has told his son of her sacrifice and that Alfredo is now hastening to her. She weeps for happiness but her joy is mingled with pain. She has a presentiment that perhaps he will be too late to see her once more: "Addio del passato" ("For ever has faded the drear so beguiling"). Annina rushes in with the good news - "Alfredo is here!"Violetta summons all her strength to leave her bed. Old Germont, who has followed his son, enters. He is full of self-reproach and declares it here after he will treat Violetta as his own daughter. "Too late" she sighs. In heaven she will pray for him. And she then sinks back, dead.

The part of Violetta Valery was performed by Darina Takova; Flora Bervoix by Leah-Marian Jones; Baron Douphol by Roderick Earle; Alfredo Germont by Giuseppe Filianoti; Annina by Gillian Knight;and George Germont by Dmitri Hyoroskovsky.


Verinha Ottoni.


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