VERDI: La Traviata
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The search for a subject for a new opera for carnival in Venice in 1853 caused Verdi some annoyance. As always he took trouble to match a chosen subject with the resources available to him and eventually his choice fell on the work of Alexandre Dumas, La Dame aux Camelias. This was based in part on that writer's own experience with the demi-mondaine Alphonsine Duplessis, for a time his mistress, but more consistently associated with a number of well-to-do noblemen until her tragically early death of consumption in 1847 at the age of 23. Dumas created round her at first a novel and then, in 1852, a play, and it was this that offered the librettist Cesare Piave a scenario on which to base a text for Verdi. The role of Violetta, the heroine of the title in La Traviata, calls for a singer who is young, graceful and delicate in appearance, and partly through his own preoccupation with Il Trovatore Verdi had been unable to exercise in time a clause in his contract with La Fenice in Venice that would have allowed him to dispense with the services of the prima donna under contract there for the season, Fanny Salvini-Donatelli. At the same time, but now far too late for cancellation, he had nothing good to say about the company at the opera-house, thought of withdrawing and prophesied a fiasco. In the event the work was not a success, its failure attributed by some to Salvini-Donatelli, who weighed in at 130 kilograms and could hardly give a convincing dramatic performance as a girl dying of consumption. Some felt that the tenor, Ludovico Graziani, had been given no chance to show his mettle, while the baritone, Felice Varesi, who had created the roles of Rigoletto and Macbeth for Verdi, turned to the press to justify himself as a singer, after his performance as Germont, written with a tessitura that hardly suited him at this stage in his career. A year later La Traviata was mounted successfully at the Teatro S Benedetto in Venice, when the role of Violetta was taken by Maria Spezia, thirteen years younger than Salvini-Donatelli and physically better suited to the part. Her husband, the baritone Gottardo Aldighieri, was four years later to make his operatic debut as Germont. A further improvement, if such it was, for the successful second staging, was made by shifting the action back in time to the period of Louis XIV, allowing a certain elaboration of historical costume, instead of modern dress.
The 1928 recording of La Traviata by the company of La Scala, conducted, as on other occasions, by Lorenzo Maoljoli, centres inevitably on the Spanish soprano Mercedes Capsir. Born in Barcelona in 1897, the daughter of two well-known singers in zarzuela, Jose Capsir and Ramona Vidal, she had studied in her native city and in Italy, making her debut at the Liceu in Barcelona in 1914 and continuing her career largely in Spain and Portugal until 1918. She made her Italian debut the following year, appearing between 1924 and 1934 at La Scala and performing in opera-houses in various musical centres in Italy until 1943. She made her last appearance in Barcelona in 1949, after which she taught there at the Conservatory in 1968. She died in 1949. For the recording with La Scala she was joined by the tenor Lionel Cecil, who had also appeared with her at the Liceu. The role of Germont was taken by the baritone Carlo Galeffi, a distinguished Verdian whose career spanned nearly fifty years, from his debut in Rome in 1904. Salvatore Baccaloni, who took the minor role of Doctor Granvil, later won a considerable reputation for comedy and had joined La Scala in 1926, continuing there until 1940, when he made his debut at the New York Metropolitan Opera.
 The Prelude to La Traviata opens in a mood of sadness and includes music that is to appear with particular poignancy later in the opera.
 The first act opens with a scene of particular brilliance, Violetta Valery, a woman of great elegance, but a courtesan, is holding a party at her house. She is seated on a divan talking with Dr Grenvil and some friends. Guests arriving include the Marquis d'Obigny and Flora Bervoix, with the Baron Douphol. Some of those present jokingly rebuke the new arrivals for their lateness. Gaston, Vicomte de Letorieres, arrives, accompanied by his friend Alfredo Germont, a distant admirer of Violetta. She invites the company to take their places for supper and Alfredo is asked to propose a toast.  This he does, introducing a Brindisi, a drinking-song, in which all join.
 The sound of dance-music is heard from another room and Violetta suggests that her guests dance. They go through, but Violetta falters for a moment, in a sudden attack of faintness. She sees Alfredo, who has stayed behind.  He tells her that he has loved her since he first saw her, but she warns him not to think of her, since she has only light-hearted friendship to offer.  They are briefly interrupted by Gaston and Alfredo takes his leave, but he is invited to come back the next day.  The guests return and now that morning is near take leave of their hostess, thanking her for her hospitality.  Violetta is left alone and now begins to feel the power of true love, after a life of superficial pleasure.  Now she wonders whether this is at last the lover she had hoped for.  She dismisses the thought,  for she has always been free to take her pleasure where she will. Although the voice of Alfredo is heard from the garden below, she pays no heed to his declaration.
Act II Scene 1
 The second act opens in a country-house near Paris. The room is on the ground floor, with doors opening onto the garden. Alfredo, who has been out shooting, considers the happiness of the last three months together with Violetta.  She calms his overflowing ardour with the calmness of her smile, expressive of her love.  Annina, Violetta's maid comes in, returning from Paris, and in reply to Alfredo's questions explains that her mistress has had to sell all her property in town to pay for the house. He is horrified and filled with remorse for his thoughtlessness and rushes out, resolved to prevent the sale.  Violetta, returning, enters with some papers in her hands. She asks Annina where Alfredo has gone and is told that he has gone to the city, but will be back in the evening. A manservant enters with a letter for her, an invitation from her friend Flora Bervoix to a ball that evening, but she no longer has any interest in such things. Now a visitor is shown in, Giorgio Germont, Alfredo's father, who suspects that his son has been wasting his money on his mistress. She explains to him the true state of affairs, showing him the bill of sale for her Paris property. Germont, however, insists that she must part from Alfredo, since the relationship between her and Alfredo stands in the way of a good marriage for his daughter. Violetta supposes a short separation is called for but is appalled at the possibility of the parting on which Germont insists. She explains to him the strength of her love and how she would rather die than part from Alfredo. He is calling for a great sacrifice and one that at first she is reluctant to make.  Germont tells her that love can fade and that Alfredo may change his mind as her beauty fades, and this is a more convincing argument.  Eventually she gives way, asking only that Alfredo's sister be told of the sacrifice she is making, one that will surely bring her own death.  He tries to comfort her, as she bids farewell for ever to her true love.  For Violetta nothing now remains, although Germont praises her generosity, which sur