La Traviata

(The Woman Who Strayed)

This Verdi opera is probably most beloved by Verdi fans. It premiered at Teatro La Fenice in 1853. Violetta, a courtesan, sacrifices her love for Alfredo in order to help preserve the good name of his family.

The opera, in 3 acts, is based on a play called La Dame Aux Camelias, which was written in 1852. The latter was adapted from a novel by Alexandre Dumas. The title literally means The Fallen Woman. It could also mean The Woman Who Goes Astray. An original title was Violetta.

La Fenice authorities wanted the opera set in 1700, like the novel was. After the 1880s, wishes were carried out and more realistic productions were then staged.

Performance History

La Traviata premiered at La Fenice in Venice during 1853. audience members jeered at the show and also at the soprano playing Violetta. She was considered too old for the part at 38. She was also overweight and the audience thought that this would not play well as Violetta died from consumption.

The manager of La Fenice wasn’t persuaded by Verdi to cast a younger woman in the role. Despite this, the first act got applause. During the second act the audience became restless after the baritone and tenor sang their parts. Verdi wrote to a friend the day after, that “La Traviata last night a failure. My fault or the singers’? Time will tell.”

Verdi made revisions in 1853 and 1854. These affected acts 2 & 3, mostly. The opera was mounted in Venice at the Teatro San Benedetto. This show was a critical success, possibly because Maria Spezia-Aldighieri portrayed Violetta.

This revised edition was put on at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London during 1856 and it also premiered in New York in December of the same year. This opera is immensely popular today and it’s the core of any standard operatic slate. Second only to The Magic Flute on the Operabase list, it is known by every opera lover in the world.



Period III: The Meyerbeer Grand Opera/Italianate Amalgem

Setting: Paris and surrounds
Time period: Start of the 18th century

Act 1
(Salon in Violetta’ house)
A famous courtesan, Violetta Valery, holds a lavish party to celebrate recovery from a sickness. A count, Gastone, arrives with a friend – nobleman Alfredo Germont. The latter has been in love with Violetta for a while, but has done this from a distance. As they walk to the party, Gastone confesses to Violetta that Alfredo adores her, and that when she was confined because of illness, he visited her daily.

Alfredo confirms the truth of those remarks. Viletta’s current lover, a baron, is nearby waiting to take her to the party. A crowd asks the baron to give a toast but he refuses. They turn to Alfredo. The latter, plus Violetta and the chorus sing the “Drinking Song”.

Act 2
Scene 1: Country house owned by Violetta on outskirts of Paris
Violetta and Alfredo have been living together for 3 months. She’s in love with Alfredo and has abandoned her life as a courtesan. He sings “Wild my dream of ecstasy”. A maid, Annina, goes to the house and is questioned by Alfredo. She says she’d gone to Paris to sell Violetta’s belongings in order to support their life in the country.

Act 3
Setting: Bedroom of Violetta
Violetta is sick with tuberculosis and Dr. Grenvil tells Annina this. As she’s alone in her room, Violetta has a letter from Alfredo’s father and she reads the letter. He tells her that the baron was wounded in his duel with Alfredo, and not killed. He also says that he’s told Alfredo about her sacrifice for his sister and himself.

The father also states that he’s sending Alfredo to her as soon as possible so he can ask for forgiveness. Violetta knows it’s too late and sings “So closes my sad story…” Annina rushes in to tell Violetta that Alfredo has arrived. Now together, Alfredo says they should leave Paris, and he sings “Dearest, we’ll leave Paris…”

It’s too late and Violetta realizes that her time is up. She sings “O God! To die so young…” The doctor and Alfredo’s father come in, the latter regretting what he’s done. Violetta and Alfredo sing a duet and she revives. She says that the discomfort and pain have left. A couple of minutes slater, she dies, held by Alfredo’s arms.

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