La traviata is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. It is based on La dame aux Camélias (1852), a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The title La traviata translates as The Strayed Woman. It was originally entitled Violetta, after the main character.
Piave and Verdi wanted to follow Dumas in giving the opera a contemporary setting, but the authorities at La Fenice insisted that it be set in the past, "c. 1700". It was not until the 1880s that the composer and librettist's original wishes were carried out and "realistic" productions were staged.
The first performance of the opera was on 6 March 1853 at the La Fenice opera house in Venice. It was jeered at times by the audience, who directed some of their scorn at the casting of soprano Fanny Salvini-Donatelli in the lead role of Violetta. Though she was an acclaimed singer, they considered her to be too old (at 38) and too overweight to credibly play a young woman dying of consumption. (Verdi had previously attempted to persuade the manager of La Fenice to re-cast the role with a younger woman, but with no success.) Nevertheless, the first act was met with applause and cheering at the end; but in the second act, the audience began to turn against the performance, especially after the singing of the baritone (Felice Varesi) and the tenor (Lodovico Graziani). The day after, Verdi wrote to his friend Muzio in what has now become perhaps his most famous letter: "La traviata last night a failure. Was the fault mine or the singers'? Time will tell."
After some revisions between 1853 and May 1854, mostly affecting acts 2 and 3, the opera was presented again in Venice, this time at the Teatro San Benedetto. This performance was a critical success, largely due to Maria Spezia-Aldighieri's portrayal of Violetta.
The opera (in the revised version) was first performed in Vienna on 4 May 1855 in Italian. It was first performed in England on 24 May 1856 in Italian at Her Majesty's Theatre in London, where it was considered morally questionable, and "the heads of the Church did their best to put an injunction upon performance; the Queen refrained from visiting the theatre during the performances, though the music, words and all, were not unheard at the palace". It was first performed in the United States on 3 December 1856 in Italian at the Academy of Music in New York. George Templeton Strong noted in his diary: "People say the plot's immoral, but I don't see that it's so much worse than many others, not to speak of Don Giovanni, which as put on the stage is little but rampant lechery", while the Evening Post critic wrote: "Those who have quietly sat through the glaring improprieties of Don Giovanni will hardly blush or frown at anything in La traviata."
The opera was first performed in France on 6 December 1856 in Italian by the Théâtre-Italien at the Salle Ventadour in Paris, and on 27 October 1864 in French as Violetta (an adaptation by Édouard Duprez, older brother of the tenor Gilbert Duprez) at the Théâtre Lyrique on the Place du Châtelet with Christine Nilsson in the title role. The French adaptation of the libretto was published in 1865.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast,
6 March 1853
(Conductor: Gaetano Mares)
|Violetta Valéry, a courtesan||soprano||Fanny Salvini-Donatelli|
|Alfredo Germont, a young bourgeois from a provincial family||tenor||Lodovico Graziani|
|Giorgio Germont, Alfredo's father||baritone||Felice Varesi|
|Flora Bervoix, Violetta's friend||mezzo-soprano||Speranza Giuseppini|
|Annina, Violetta's maid||soprano||Carlotta Berini|
|Gastone, Alfredo's friend||tenor||Angelo Zuliani|
|Barone Douphol, Violetta's lover, a rival of Alfredo||baritone||Francesco Dragone|
|Marchese d'Obigny||bass||Arnaldo Silvestri|
|Dottore Grenvil||bass||Andrea Bellini|
|Giuseppe, Violetta's servant||tenor||G. Borsato|
|Flora's servant||bass||G. Tona|
- Place: Paris and its vicinity.
- Time: Beginning of the 18th century
The salon in Violetta's house
Violetta Valéry, a famed courtesan, throws a lavish party at her Paris salon to celebrate her recovery from an illness. Gastone, a count, has brought with him his friend, the young nobleman Alfredo Germont, who has long adored Violetta from afar. While walking to the salon, Gastone tells Violetta that Alfredo loves her, and that while she was ill, he came to her house every day. Alfredo joins them, admitting the truth of Gastone's remarks.
Baron Douphol, Violetta's current lover, waits nearby to escort her to the salon where the Baron is asked to give a toast, but he refuses, and the crowd turns to Alfredo who agrees to sing a Brindisi – a drinking song (Alfredo, Violetta, chorus: Libiamo ne' lieti calici – "Drink from the joyful cup").
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From the next room, the sound of the orchestra is heard and the guests move there to dance. Feeling dizzy, Violetta asks her guests to go ahead and to leave her to rest until she recovers. While the guests dance in the next room, Violetta looks at her pale face in her mirror. Alfredo enters and expresses his concern for her fragile health, later declaring his love for her (Alfredo, Violetta: Un dì, felice, eterea – "One day, happy and ethereal"). At first she rejects him because his love means nothing to her, but there is something about Alfredo that touches her heart. He is about to leave when she gives him a flower, telling him to return it when it has wilted. She promises to meet him the next day.
After the guests leave, Violetta wonders if Alfredo could actually be the one in her life (Violetta: Ah, fors'è lui – "Ah, perhaps he is the one"). But she concludes that she needs freedom to live her life (Violetta: Sempre libera – "Always free"). From off stage, Alfredo's voice is heard singing about love as he walks down the street.
Scene 1: Violetta's country house outside Paris
Three months later, Alfredo and Violetta are living together in a peaceful country house outside Paris. Violetta has fallen in love with Alfredo and she has completely abandoned her former life. Alfredo sings of their happy life together (Alfredo: De' miei bollenti spiriti / Il giovanile ardore – "The youthful ardor of my ebullient spirits"). Annina, the maid, arrives from Paris, and, when questioned by Alfredo, tells him that she went there to sell the horses, carriages and everything owned by Violetta to support their country lifestyle.
Alfredo is shocked to learn this and leaves for Paris immediately to settle matters himself. Violetta returns home and receives an invitation from her friend, Flora, to a party in Paris that evening. Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, is announced and demands that she break off her relationship with his son for the sake of his family, since he reveals that Violetta's relationship with Alfredo has threatened his daughter's engagement (Giorgio: Pura siccome un angelo – "Pure as an angel, God gave a daughter") because of Violetta's reputation. Meanwhile, reluctantly, he becomes impressed by Violetta's nobility, something which he did not expect from a courtesan. She responds that she cannot end the relationship because she loves him so much, but Giorgio pleads with her for the sake of his family. With growing remorse, she finally agrees (Violetta, Giorgio: Dite alla giovine sì bella e pura, – "Tell the young girl, so beautiful and pure,") and says goodbye to Giorgio. In a gesture of gratitude for her kindness and sacrifice, Giorgio kisses her forehead before leaving her weeping alone.
Violetta gives a note to Annina to send to Flora accepting the party invitation and, as she is writing a farewell letter to Alfredo, he enters. She can barely control her sadness and tears; she tells him repeatedly of her unconditional love (Violetta: Amami, Alfredo, amami quant'io t'amo – "Love me, Alfredo, love me as I love you"). Before rushing out and setting off for Paris, she hands the farewell letter to her servant to give to Alfredo.
Soon, the servant brings the letter to Alfredo and, as soon as he has read it, Giorgio returns and attempts to comfort his son, reminding him of his family in Provence (Giorgio: Di Provenza il mar, il suol chi dal cor ti cancellò? – "Who erased the sea, the land of Provence from your heart?"). Alfredo suspects the Baron is behind his separation with Violetta and the party invitation, which he finds on the desk, strengthens his suspicions. He determines to confront Violetta at the party. Giorgio tries to stop Alfredo, but he rushes out.
Scene 2: Party at Flora's house
At the party, the Marquis tells Flora that Violetta and Alfredo have separated to the amazement of everyone who had previously seen the happy couple. She calls for the entertainers to perform for the guests (Chorus: Noi siamo zingarelle venute da lontano – "We are gypsy girls who have come from afar"); (Chorus: Di Madride noi siam mattadori – "We are matadors from Madrid"). Gastone and his friends join the matadors and sing (Gastone, chorus, dancers: È Piquillo un bel gagliardo Biscaglino mattador – "Piquillo is a bold and handsome matador from Biscay").
Violetta arrives with Baron Douphol. They see Alfredo at the gambling table. When he sees them, Alfredo loudly proclaims that he will take Violetta home with him. Feeling annoyed, the Baron goes to the gambling table and joins him in a game. As they bet, Alfredo wins some large sums until Flora announces that supper is ready. Alfredo leaves with handfuls of money.
As everyone is leaving the room, Violetta has asked Alfredo to see her. Fearing that the Baron's anger will lead him to challenge Alfredo to a duel, she gently asks Alfredo to leave. Alfredo misunderstands her apprehension and demands that she admit that she loves the Baron. In grief, she makes that admission and, furiously, Alfredo calls the guests to witness what he has to say (Questa donna conoscete? – "You know this woman?"). He humiliates and denounces Violetta in front of the guests and then throws his winnings at her feet in payment for her services. She faints onto the floor. The guests reprimand Alfredo: "Di donne ignobile insultatore, di qua allontanati, ne desti orror!" ("Ignoble insulter of women, go away from here, you fill us with horror!").
In search of his son, Giorgio enters the hall and, knowing the real significance of the scene, denounces his son's behavior (Giorgio, Alfredo, Violetta, chorus: Di sprezzo degno sè stesso rende chi pur nell'ira la donna offende. – "A man, who even in anger, offends a woman renders himself deserving of contempt.").
Flora and the ladies attempt to persuade Violetta to leave the dining room, but Violetta turns to Alfredo: Alfredo, Alfredo, di questo core non puoi comprendere tutto l'amore... – "Alfredo, Alfredo, you can't understand all the love in this heart...".
Dr. Grenvil tells Annina that Violetta will not live long since her tuberculosis has worsened. Alone in her room, Violetta reads a letter from Alfredo's father telling her that the Baron was only wounded in his duel with Alfredo; that he has informed Alfredo of the sacrifice she has made for him and his sister; and that he is sending his son to see her as quickly as possible to ask for her forgiveness. But Violetta senses it is too late (Violetta: Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti – "Farewell, lovely, happy dreams of the past").
Annina rushes in the room to tell Violetta of Alfredo's arrival. The lovers are reunited and Alfredo suggests that they leave Paris (Alfredo, Violetta: Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo – "We will leave Paris, O beloved").
But it is too late: she knows her time is up (Alfredo, Violetta: Gran Dio!...morir sì giovine – "Great God!...to die so young"). Alfredo's father enters with the doctor, regretting what he has done. After singing a duet with Alfredo, Violetta suddenly revives, exclaiming that the pain and discomfort has left her. A moment later, she dies in Alfredo's arms.
The opera uses an orchestra with the following instrumentation:
2 flutes (fl. 2 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, cimbasso, timpani, cymbals, bass drum, triangle, strings
Film and other versions
- Donato Lovreglio (1841–1907), an Italian flautist and composer wrote the "Concert Fantasy on themes from Verdi's La traviata (op. 45)" for clarinet and orchestra; in it, Lovreglio used the overture and several arias from the opera.
- Various versions of the movie Camille were also adapted from the same novel. See Camille (disambiguation).
- There is a film version of the opera from 1967, with Anna Moffo as Violetta, Franco Bonisolli as Alfredo, Gino Bechi as Giorgio Germont, and the chorus and orchestra of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, conducted by Giuseppe Patanè. The film is directed by Mario Lanfranchi. It is available on DVD.
- Franco Zeffirelli directed another version in 1983, with Teresa Stratas as Violetta, Plácido Domingo as Alfredo, and Cornell MacNeil as Giorgio Germont.
- The Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909) wrote a "Fantasía sobre motivos de La traviata." The arrangement opens with a paraphrase of the opera's prelude. The rest of the work consists of arrangements of Violetta's three arias, each featuring special techniques of the guitar. "Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti" features a brief tremolo passage; "A fors' e lui" is in harmonics; and the closing arrangement of "Sempre libera" features fast scales that suggest a new genre of "coloratura guitar."
- Holden 2001, p. 995.
- Letter from Verdi to Emanuele Muzio (7 March 1853), quoted in Loewenberg 1978, column 906: "La traviata ieri sera fiasco. La colpa è mia o dei cantanti? Il tempo giudicherà". Translated in Krehbiel 1909, p. 167.
- Loewenberg 1978, columns 906–908.
- Leslie's (13 December 1856), p. 18, quoted and cited in Lawrence 1995, p. 712.
- Lawrence 1995, p. 712.
- Evening Post (4 December 1856), p. 18, quoted and cited in Lawrence 1995, pp. 712–713.
- Walsh 1981, p. 317.
- Piave 1865.
- "Opera Statistics". Operabase. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
- Budden 1992, p. 114.
- The synopsis is based in part on Melitz 1921, pp. 195–196.
- La traviata (1967) at the Internet Movie Database
- La traviata (1983) at the Internet Movie Database
- Budden, Julian (1992). The Operas of Verdi: Volume 2: From Il Trovatore to La Forza del Destino. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816262-6.
- Holden, Amanda (2001). The New Penguin Opera Guide. New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-14-029312-4.
- Krehbiel, Henry Edward (1909). A Book of Operas: Their Histories, Their Plots and Their Music]. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909. View at Google Books.
- Lawrence, Vera Brodsky (1995). Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong. Volume II. Reverberations, 1850–1856. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-47011-5.
- Loewenberg, Alfred (1978). Annals of Opera 1597–1940 (third edition, revised). Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-87471-851-5.
- Melitz, Leo (1921). The Opera Goer's Complete Guide, translated from German into English by Richard Salinger, revised by Louise Wallace Hackney. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company. View at Google Books.
- Piave, Francesco Maria (1865). Violetta, la Traviata, opéra en 4 actes, musique de G. Verdi (libretto), French translation by Édouard Duprez. Paris: M. Lévy frères. OCLC 457685361.
- Rattalino, Piero (2006). Memoriale di "Pura Siccome". La storia di Violetta la traviata raccontata dalla sorella nubile di Alfredo, Zecchini Editore. ISBN 88-87203-05-9
- Walsh, T. J. (1981). Second Empire Opera: The Théâtre Lyrique Paris 1851–1870. New York: Riverrun Press. ISBN 978-0-7145-3659-0.
- Balthazar, Scott. The Cambridge Companion to Verdi. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-521-63535-7.
- Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane, Verdi: A Biography, London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1993 ISBN 0-19-313204-4
- Werfel, Franz and Stefan, Paul, Verdi: The Man and His Letters, New York, Vienna House 1973 ISBN 0-8443-0088-8
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: La traviata|
- Ah, fors'è lui at Project Gutenberg: public domain MP3 recording
- La traviata: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Vocal score at Indiana University School of Music, public domain vocal score (scanned from an 1899 edition)
- Orchestra score at Indiana University School of Music, public domain orchestra score (scanned from an old edition)
- La traviata on the Aria database
- La traviata discography
- La traviata at Zürich Hauptbahnhof by Swiss TV, 30 September 2008 (in German) and Video of the performance on YouTube