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ClassicsOnline Home » VERDI: Traviata (La)
Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)
Opera in 3 Acts
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave
Violetta Valéry - Monika Krause, soprano
Flora Bervoix - Rannveig Braga, mezzo-soprano
Annina - Ivica Neshybová, soprano
Alfredo Germont - Yordy Ramiro, tenor
Giorgio Germont, his father - Georg Tichy, baritone
Gastone, Visconte de Létorières - Peter Oswald, tenor
Barone Douphoi - Pavol Maurery, baritone
Marchese d’Obigny - Ladislav Neshyba, bass
Dottore Grenvil - Jozef Spacek, baritone
Giuseppe, Violetta’s servant - Peter Subert, tenor
Il Commissario - Ladislav Neshyba, bass
Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari, conductor
Giuseppe Verdi’s career
spans three quarters of the nineteenth century. He was born in 1813 at Roncole,
near Busseto, the son of a tavern-keeper, and distinguished himself locally in
music. The encouragement and patronage of his future father-in-law, Antonio
Barezzi, a merchant in Busseto, allowed him further study in Milan, before
returning to Busseto as maestro di musica. His first venture into opera,
a reasonably successful one, was in 1839 with Oberto. This was followed,
however, by the failure of Un giorno di regno, written at 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 La Scala in Milan in 1842.
career in Italy was to bring him unrivalled fame, augmented by his reputation
as a patriot and fervent supporter of Italian national unity. His name itself
was treated as an acronym for the proposed monarch of a united Italy, Vittorio Emanuele Rè D’ltalia, and much of his work in the period of unification was
susceptible to patriotic interpretation. His long association with the singer
Giuseppina Strepponi led to their marriage in 1859, the year of Il ballo in
maschera. He completed his last opera, Falstaff, in 1893, four years
before her death, but felt himself unequal to further Shakespearian operas that
were then proposed. He died while staying in Milan, early in 1901, his death
the subject of national mourning throughout Italy.
, first produced in Venice in 1853, is based on a very different source, the play La dame aux camelias
by Alexandre Dumas fils. The French play, originally, in 1848, a novel, and dramatised
in 1852, was the first significant success in the theatre of Alexandre Dumas,
the illegitimate son of the author of Le Comte de Monte Cristo and Les
trois mousquetaires. The piece was an early example of theatrical realism,
a movement with its parallel in the visual arts and other branches of
literature. This is seen in particular in the dramatist’s preoccupation with
the contemporary position of the fallen woman, a matter that was of continuing
if occasionally saccharine interest to French writers and composers for the
rest of the century. The courtesan Marguerite Gautier, the woman of the title,
is in love with young Armand Duval, whose father persuades her unselfishly to
renounce him. Marguerite and Armand are only reconciled when all is revealed,
as the former lies dying. The story had obvious appeal to Verdi, who was
familiar with life in Paris. At the same time it had at least hints of his own
long-standing relationship with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi, with whom
Verdi lived in Paris in 1847 and who only became his wife in 1859.
It was during 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. The subject
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, busy completing the score
of Il 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 the composer’s full approval.
The result was not a complete disaster, but the opera failed, at least, to make
a favourable impression on the scale that Verdi might normally have expected.
The choice of a historical rather than contemporary setting distanced the opera
from modern reality, while further credibility was sacrificed by the appearance
of the first Violetta, Fanny Salvini-Donatelli, who weighed in at 130
kilograms. A year later La Traviata was staged again at a rival theatre
in Venice, the Teatro Gallo, in a slightly revised version, this time with the
elegant singer Maria Piccolomini, who boasted physical 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 greatest operatic singers.
The libretto of La
Traviata, by Francesco Maria Piave, then employed as poet and 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 the opera, La
Traviata, states unambiguously the nature of the heroine’s predicament: she
is a fallen woman. In the opera Marguerite becomes Violetta, and Armand Duval
is transformed into Alfredo Germont, and there is what may be seen as a shift
of emphasis away from the authorial moralizing of the young man’s father in the
play to the tragedy of Violetta herself. The subtle changes between play and
libretto demonstrate Piave’s ability as a poet of the opera.
The story of the opera
concerns Violetta, a courtesan, who sacrifices her love for her beloved
Alfredo, at his father’s request, although the young man does not know the
cause of their estrangement, imagining her merely fickle. Final reconciliation
only comes as Violetta lies dying, when all is explained. The original realism of
the piece, lost in the first production at La Fenice, lay in part in its
contemporary setting, for which La Fenice at first substituted the early
eighteenth century, and in the second place in its reflection of a situation
not altogether uncommon in the world of the demi-mondaine, a telling contrast
between the frivolity and extravagance of life at its best and the grim reality
that was likely to be faced at the end.
[CD 1 / Track 1] 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.
[1/2] The first act
opens with a scene of particular brilliance. Violetta Valéry, a woman of great
elegance, but a courtesan, is holding a party at her house.
[1/3] She is seated
on a divan, talking with Dr. Grenvil and other guests. Among them are Barone
Douphol and Violetta’s friend Flora Bervoix, on the arm of the Marchese
Visconte de Létorières, comes in, bringing with him 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.
gallantly introduces the drinking-song (Brindisi), in which they all join.
[1/6] 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.
[1/7] Alfredo tells
Violetta that he has loved her since he first saw her, but she tells him not to
think of her, since he has only light-hearted friendship to offer.
[1/8] They are
briefly interrupted by Gastone and Alfredo takes his leave, but is invited to
come back the next day.
[1/9] The guests
return and now that morning is near take leave of their hostess, thanking her
for her hospitality.
[1/10] Violetta is
left alone and now begins to feel the power of true love, after a life of
[1/11] She has
always been free to take her pleasure where she will. Although the voice of
Alfredo is heard from the garden below, Violetta pays no heed to his
[1/12] 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 with Violetta.
Violetta’s maid, comes in, and in reply to Alfredo’s questions, explains that
her mistress has had to sell all her property in town to pay for this house.
[1/14] Alfredo is
horrified and filled with remorse for his thoughtlessness rushes out, resolved
to prevent the sale.
enters and is given a letter from Flora inviting her to a ball that evening,
but now she has no interest in such things.
manservant, Giuseppe, now announces the arrival of a visitor and ushers in
Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, who suspects that Alfredo has been wasting
money on his mistress. She explains to him the true state of affairs showing
him the bill of sale for her Paris property.
however, explains that she must part from Alfredo, since the relationship
between them stands in the way of a good marriage for Alfredo’s sister.
supposes that a temporary separation only is called for, but is appalled at the
possibility of separation for ever, on which Germont insists. She explains the
strength of her love for Alfredo. She would rather die than part from him.
attempts to persuade her further by pointing out that when her beauty fades
with age, Alfredo will tire of her. Violetta is moved by this argument, adding
that having once fallen, a woman can never rise.
she agrees, asking only that Alfredo’s sister be told of the sacrifice she is
making, one that will surely bring her death.
[1/22] Germont tries
to comfort her, as she bids farewell for ever to true love.
[1/23] For Violetta
nothing now remains, although Germont praises her generosity, which surely will
be rewarded. She bids Germont farewell and he leaves through the door leading
to the garden
[1/24] Violetta, now
alone, sits down to write a note, which Annina is to deliver, making an
assignation with the Barone Douphol. She then writes a note for Alfredo,
searching for words to express her feelings. He comes in, and she hides the
letter and tells him again of her love, begging him never to stop loving her,
as she runs into the garden.
[1/25] Alfredo, left
alone, sits down and opens a book. Just as he is wondering whether he will see
his father, Giuseppe enters to announce Violetta’s departure for Paris. A letter is brought in for Alfredo, who now learns of Violetta’s decision to leave
him. He is heart-broken, and his father, who has re-appeared, tries to comfort
[1/26] Germont suggests
that Alfredo should return home and tries to offer him what consolation he can.
[1/27] Germont’s attempts
to comfort his son are in vain.
[1/28] All the more so
when Alfredo finally catches sight of Flora’s invitation to Violetta. He rushes
away to find her.
[2/1] The finale of the
second act is set in the richly furnished house of Flora Bervoix. Flora herself,
the Marchese, Dr. Grenvil and other guests are present. She has invited
Violetta and Germont, but the Marchese tells the company that they have now
separated and she has gone over to the Barone Douphol.
[2/2] The entertainment
begins with a group of masqueraders disguised as gypsy dancers, boasting of
their prowess at fortune-telling. One of them reads Flora’s palm and pretends
to see there infidelity.
[2/3] The gypsies are
followed by a group of masqueraders disguised as Spanish matadors and picadors,
victorious in the arena and in love. They are led by Gastone.
[2/4] Alfredo enters
alone, to the surprise of the company, but they soon turn their attention to
gambling. At this point Violetta appears, on the arm of the Barone. Violetta is
alarmed to see Alfredo there, but goes to sit with Flora. Alfredo remains at
the gaming-table, where he is winning. Douphol, in jealousy, challenges Alfredo
in a contest which, at Violetta’s urging, takes place at the table. Alfredo
continues his winning streak against the rich Douphol, who had hoped to beggar
him. Supper is announced, and the guests move out, leaving Alfredo and Douphol
to follow them.
[2/5] Violetta returns in
agitation, rejoined by Alfredo. She asks him to leave. Having promised Germont
that she will not reveal the true reason for her desertion of her lover, she is
obliged to confess a pretended love for Douphol. Alfredo throws open the door
and calls the others in.
[2/6] Reproaching her,
Alfredo throws his winnings at Violetta’s feet, to the disapproval of the
[2/7] At this juncture
Alfredo’s father appears and reproaches him for his behaviour. Alfredo is sorry
for what he has done, while the others try to console Violetta.
[2/8] Violetta now
declares her love for Alfredo, a greater love than he can ever understand.
Germont leads his son away, while Douphol offers a final challenge to his
[2/9] The last act is set
in the poor quarters where Violetta now lives. Violetta is asleep, and seated
near her, dozing, is her servant Annina. There are various medicine bottles on
the side-table. The music recalls the opening of the opera, a contrast to the
artificial gaiety of Violetta’s old life.
[2/10] Waking, Violetta
calls to Annina, asking for water. It is dawn. Dr. Grenvil enters, making his
daily visit to a patient who is now very near to death. Violetta asks Annina
how much money is left and tells her to give it to the poor and then see if
there are any letters for her.
[2/11] Alone, Violetta
takes out a letter she has had from Alfredo’s father, telling her that Douphol
was wounded in his duel with Alfredo, but is recovering, an that Alfredo has
left the country. Now, however, having learned from Germont of Violetta’s
sacrifice, he is coming back again to beg her forgiveness. She looks at her
changed features in the mirror and realises that in spite of Dr. Grenvil’s
reassurance to her she is near to death.
[2/12] The sound of
carnival is heard from the street outside, in ironic contrast to the scene in
[2/13] Annina announces a
visitor, Alfredo, who embraces Violetta passionately. Each now seeks pardon of
[2/14] Alfredo suggests
that they should make a new life for themselves away from Paris. Violetta will
soon be better and they will live together in happiness.
[2/15] Annina tries to
help her dress, but she falls back, debilitated from her illness and unable to
stir. She realises that death is approaching, as Alfredo, distraught, begs her
to calm herself.
[2/16] Annina returns with
the doctor and with Germont, who now understands that his action has caused
[2/17] Violetta, now even
weaker, gives Alfredo a medallion with her likeness, as she once was, and tells
him to give it to the girl he will marry, assuring them of her prayers, once
she is dead.
[2/18] To the gentle sound
of music associated with her earlier days of happiness, Violetta feels sudden
relief from pain and weakness, and with radiant happiness on her face, falls
dead in her lover’s arms.
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VERDI: Traviata (La)