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La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. Brilliant Italian opera
A speedy gallop through the plot of La Traviata
Of all the many annoyances that can bedevil relationships, that of the interfering in-law is perhaps the worst. In La Traviata, (the famous opera by Giuseppe Verdi), we are presented with a prime example of this pernicious ilk in the person of Baron Giorgio. This, puffed up with pride, old man considers the courtesan Violetta to be not good enough for his precious son Alfredo; conveniently forgetting that there was probably a conglomeration of pregnant milkmaids and housemaids, that could claim his youthful self as the progenitor of their offspring. He might impregnate them, but the risk to family honour would prevent him marrying any of them. That seems to have been the attitude he adopted towards Violetta. The status of his family would be fatally compromised, if the scandal of his son’s mésalliance was allowed to continue. Of course, he just had to visit Violetta and plead with her to end the relationship. He even raised the spectre of his beloved daughter being unable to make a good marriage, because of the shame. His idea of a suitable alliance was probably to have her tied to some hoary old git with plenty of land and money. The life story of the daughter would probably make for a tragic opera in its own right, but we are still waiting for someone to create it.
Of course, the upshot of all his interfering is that the relationship is broken off. The young courtesan should have sent the old hypocrite off with a flea in his ear but Violetta, who obviously had more goodness than sense, instead leaves a note for Alfredo, telling him that all is over. She then takes herself off to a big party, to try to get over things.
La Traviata, like most operas, does not have a straightforward plot, so the story is not ended when Alfredo gets his marching orders. He follows Violetta to the party and accuses her of being in love with Baron Douphol, (her ex, but now reduced to the status of “just good friends”). In order to keep her promise to his father, she says she is. In a rage Alfredo throws a load of money at her feet in payment for her “services”. Nobody has ever thrown filthy lucre at my feet. I wish I knew her secret. But that’s my personal grief. Violetta’s was different. She faints on the floor and then, when she revives, tells Alfredo about the deep love she feels for him. I think, at this stage, he must be pretty confused. First she loves him, then she doesn’t and finally she deeply adores him. His state of mind can hardly have been improved, when he is abused by his fellow guests for disrespecting a lady. To add insult to injury, his self- righteous “old man”, (who had caused all the problems in the first place), joins in the condemnation.
In the final part of the opera, the baron tries to make amends for all the trouble caused by his snobbery. He speaks to his son and praises Violetta for the sacrifice she had, (foolishly in my opinion), made to uphold his precious family reputation and begs him to ask his slighted beloved to forgive him. The unfortunate girl receives a letter from him also, to tell her that he is trying to put things right. He seems to be in denial about his responsibility for the whole sorry mess. I really don’t like that baron at all. The phrase “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted” could have been written with him in mind. Alfredo rushes to her home and arrives just before she expires from the tuberculosis which I omitted to mention had been ravaging her fair body from the beginning of the tale. Sadly it all happens too late and the lovers are reunited only for a very brief spell, (just long enough to sing a couple of beautiful arias). Violetta perks up for a brief moment and then dies in her true love’s arms.
The premiere of La Traviata
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La Traviata is launched on the world
Whatever the operatic eccentricities of the plot might be, La Traviata is one of the most popular operas of all time and the brilliant music of Verdi has been entrancing audiences since 1853. There were some objections raised to its subject by some of the more prudish elements in society, as it was considered immoral to promote a courtesan as heroine. Such was the attitude of mid Victorian society, where hypocrisy had become a way of life. Also the first performance at La Fenice in Venice attracted some booing in the second act, due to the unfortunate fact that the soprano was considered too old and too fat to play the part of a young woman dying of TB. In fact, none of the leading singers came up to the exacting standards of the Venetian opera goers. Verdi was thwarted as well in his wish to produce his work in modern dress. The local operatic establishment insisted on eighteenth century costumes. The composer considered that the premiere was a flop and he was reluctant to risk his reputation in further Italian performances, at least, until the problems over the singers were overcome. When these teething problems were dealt with, La Traviata was performed to great acclaim and it has delighted audiences ever since.
The immortal music of Giuseppe Verdi
I will conclude by leaving you with two short videos from performances of this gem of Italian opera. Enjoy.