Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Verdi: La Traviata (1853)

In 1848 a book entitled The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas (the son) was published. It was made into a play and this was first performed in Paris in 1852. People liked the play very much and, under the title of Camille, it has remained popular ever since.

One of the people who liked the play was the great composer Giuseppe Verdi. Right away he set it to music. He called his version of the play La Traviata (The Courtesan). It is one of Verdi’s masterpieces.

Unlike the play, Verdi’s opera was not popular right away. It was first performed in 1853 in Venice. The people watching the debut didn't like it at all. Verdi himself did not know which was worse: the singing or his music.

Verdi rewrote some of the music. In 1854 his opera was again performed in Venice. This time critics liked it. This was mainly because Marie Spezia-Aldighieri, the main singer, did such a great job. Today La Traviata is the second most-popular opera in the world (the first is Mozart’s The Magic Flute).

The opera is about a woman named Violetta Valery. Violetta is a courtesan. She is beautiful, smart, funny, friendly, and likes being with rich men. Rich men like being with her very much and give her lots of money for her company.

The opera opens at a party. Violetta has been very sick. Feeling much better, she wants to celebrate.

At the party, Violetta meets a rich young man named Alfredo. Afredo tells Violetta how much he loves her. She’s heard that before, but this time she thinks Alfredo might be different from all the other rich men in her life.

Three months later, Violetta is living happily with Alfredo in a quiet house in the country outside of Paris. One day, while Afredo is away, Alfredo’s father Giorgio visits Violetta. Giorgio tells Violetta that she must leave his son. She is a courtesan and, as long as she lives with his son, no one wants to marry his daughter. At first Violetta says she loves Alfredo too much to leave him. In the end, however, she agrees and leaves for Paris.

Before Giorgio met Violetta, he was sure she was a bad person. To be a good father, he was sure he had to tell Violetta to go away. Now that he has met her, he is not so sure he has done the right thing.

Alfredo follows Violetta to Paris. He is hurt, sad, angry, and confused. When he finds Violetta at a party, he says bad things about her in front of everyone. She faints. His father Giorgio, who was looking for him, tells him that what he did was wrong.

Later, Giorgio tells Alfredo how good Violetta really is. Alfredo goes quickly to see Violetta to ask her to forgive him. He finds her, hugs her, and tells her how sorry he is for acting so badly.

Violetta is happy to be close to Alfredo once again. But she cannot stay with him. She is sick again, very sick. She tells him of her love and, while Alfredo is holding her, she dies.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.