VERDI: La Traviata
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La Traviata (Highlights)Opera in 3 Acts
Libretto: Francesco Maria PiaveVioletta Valery
- Monika Krause, soprano Flora Bervoix
- Rannveig Braga, mezzo-soprano Annina
- Ivica Neshybova, soprano Alfredo Germont
- Yordy Ramiro, tenor Giorgio Germont, his father
- Georg Tichy, baritone Dottore Grenvil
- Jozef Spacek, baritoneSlovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari, conductor GiuseppeVerdi's career spans three quarters of the nineteenth century. He was born in1813 at Le Roncole, near Busseto, the son of a tavern-keeper, and distinguishedhimself locally in music. The encouragement and patronage of his futurefather-in-law, Antonio Barezzi, a merchant in Busseto, allowed him furtherstudy in Milan, before returning to Busseto as maestro di musica
. Hisfirst venture into opera, a reasonably successful one, was in 1839 with Oberto
This was followed, however, by the failure of Un giomo di regno
, writtenat a period when the composer suffered the death of his wife and two children.
His early reputation was established by the opera Nabucco
, staged at LaScala in Milan in 1842.
Verdi'ssubsequent career in Italy was to bring him unrivalled fame, augmented by hisreputation as a patriot and fervent supporter of Italian national unity. Hisname itself was treated as an acronym for the proposed monarch of a united Italy, 'Vittorlo Emanuele re d'Italia,' and much of his work in the period of unificationwas susceptible to patriotic interpretation. His long association with thesinger Giuseppina Strepponi led to their marriage in 1859, the year of Un balloin maschera
. He completed his last opera, FaIstaff
in 1893, fouryears before her death, but felt himself unequal to further Shakespearianoperas that were then proposed. He died while staying in Milan, early in 1901,his death the subject of national mourning throughout Italy.LaTraviata
, firstproduced in Venice in 1853, is based on a very different source, the play Ladame aux camelias
by Alexandre Dumas fils. The French play, originally, in1848, a novel, and dramatised in 1852, was the first significant success in thetheatre of Alexandre Dumas, the illegitimate son of the author of Le Comtede Monte Cristo
and Les trois mousquetaires
. The piece was anearly example of theatrical realism, a movement with its parallel in the visualarts and other branches of literature. This is seen in particular in thedramatist's preoccupation with the contemporary position of the fallen woman, amatter that was of continuing if occasionally saccharine interest to Frenchwriters and composers for the rest of the century. The courtesan MargueriteGautier, the woman of the title, is in love with young Armand Duval, whosefather persuades her unselfishly to renounce him. Marguerite and Armand areonly reconciled when all is revealed, as the former lies dying. The story hadobvious appeal to Verdi, who was familiar with life in Paris. At the same timeit had at least hints of his own long-standing relationship with the singerGiuseppina Strepponi, with whom Verdi lived in Paris in 1847 and who onlybecame his wife in 1859.
It wasduring Verdi's stay in Paris that he received a commission from La Fenice, the Venice opera-house, for a new opera, following the success of Rigoletto
. Thesubject of the new French play La dame aux camelias
was agreed upon,with the censors only objecting to the proposed title Amore or morte
,for which La Traviata
was substituted. Verdi was, meanwhile, busycompleting the score of II Trovatore
, which was staged in Rome in January, 1853. Negotiations with Venice proved frustrating and La Traviata
was eventually mounted at La Fenice in March, with a cast that did not have thecomposer's full approval. The result was not a complete disaster, but the operafailed, at least, to make a favourable impression on the scale that Verdi mightnormally have expected. The choice of a historical rather than contemporarysetting distanced the opera from modem reality, while further credibility wassacrificed by the appearance of the first Violetta, Fanny Salvini-Donatelli,who weighed in at 130 kilograms. A year later La Traviata
was stagedagain at a rival theatre in Venice, the Teatro Gallo, in a slightly revisedversion, this time with the elegant singer Maria Piccolomini, who boastedphysical attractions that concealed well enough her lack of musical ability.
This time it enjoyed the success it deserved. By 1856 it had reached London and New York and has continued as a popular vehicle for some of the greatestoperatic singers.
Thelibretto of La Traviata
, by Francesco Maria Piave, then employed as poetand stage manager at La Fenice and the author of some ten libretti for Verdi,made necessary changes in the original play. The untranslatable title of theopera, La Traviata
, states unambiguously the nature of the heroine'spredicament: she is a fallen woman. In the opera Marguerite becomes Violetta,and Armand Duval is transformed into Alfredo Germont, and there is what may beseen as a shift of emphasis away from the authorial moralising of the youngman's father in the play to the tragedy of Violetta herself. The subtle changesbetween play and libretto demonstrate Piave's ability as a poet of the opera.
The operaopens with a Prelude [Track 1], including music that will re-appear with greatpoignancy later. The curtain rises on a brilliant scene, a reception at thehouse of the fashionable courtesan Violetta, who is talking to her friends whenAlfredo comes in, a distant admirer. He gallantly introduces a drinking-song[Track 2], in which the whole company joins. Violetta falters for a moment, asthe rest of the company move into an adjoining room, and Alfredo takes theopportunity to declare his love for her [Track 3], but she tells him not tothink of her, since she has only friendship to offer him. Left alone, however,she begins to feel the power of true love, after a life of superficial pleasure[Track 4]: perhaps Alfredo is the man her heart really desires. Then she pullsherself together [Track 5], for she has always remained free to take herpleasure where she will. The voice of Alfredo is heard from the garden below,but she takes no heed of his declaration.
The secondact opens in a country-house near Paris, where Violetta and AIfredo haveestablished themselves [Track 6]. Alfredo, who has been out shooting, considersthe happiness of the last three months with his mistress. Annina, Violetta'sservant, tells him that her mistress is out, forced to sell property to pay forthe house. Alfredo is horrified [Track 7] and filled with remorse at his ownthoughtlessness. He rushes out, determined to prevent the sale. When Violettareturns, she finds a visitor, Germont, Alfredo's father, who explains how herrelationship with his son damages the prospects of his innocent daughter [Track8]. Violetta imagines that he only demands a temporary separation, but heinsists on a permanent parting, which she would rather die than allow.
Nevertheless he persuades her to this act of self-sacrifice, pointing out that,as she grows older, Alfredo will tire of her. Persuaded by this reasoning,Violetta agrees, asking only that Alfredo's sister be told of the sacrifice sheis making, one that will surely bring her death. Alone again, she sits down towrite a note making an assignation with Barone Douphol and another to herlover, seeking words to express her feelings [Track 9]. Alfredo comes in andshe hides the letter, assuring him of her love