La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) premiered at Teatro La Fenice in 1853 and has long been one of the cornerstones of the operatic repertory. One of Verdi’s most popular operas, it is also one of his most distinct. Unlike the majority of his output which was inspired by grand historical or political events, this work’s subject matter directly addresses social issues contemporary to the composer’s time. It is a melodrama in three acts set to a libretto of Verdi’s longtime collaborator, Francesco Maria Piave, and it is loosely based on the play La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas. Verdi’s perfectly attuned music to his librettist’s taut and vivid prose yields a true masterpiece, an opera not to be missed!
The plot takes place in Paris and in its surroundings, in the 1850s. The action of the first act takes place in August; the second in January; and the third in February. Violetta Valéry, a young courtesan, famous in the Parisian high society, throws a party in her home.
The prelude to the opera begins with very soft, very high strings depicting the frail heroine, followed by the main love theme of the opera, which is then played on lower strings while the higher instruments decorate the melody.
This delicate atmosphere is altered on curtain rise by lively dance tunes in the orchestra. After the famous “Brindisi”, an offstage band plays a series of waltzes (waltz rhythms pervade the first act of the opera, creating a Parisian atmosphere). The concluding part of Violetta’s solo scene that ends the first act is full of vocal decoration and feverish ornamentation as she swears to stay free (“Sempre libera”). These coloratura effects are not required for the character after the first act.
The lengthy and crucial duet between the elder Germont and Violetta in act 2 is multi-sectioned with the music following the changing dramatic situation.
La Traviata is the only one of Verdi’s many operas to be set entirely indoors. Unlike Il Trovatore, which was composed simultaneously, La Traviata is an intimate piece, full of tender lyricism. The character of Violetta dominates the work and her music changes as she develops through the drama, from the hectic, almost hysterical coloratura of the first act, to the more dramatic passages of the second, and the spiritual quality of her music as she departs life in act 3.
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Oct. 10, 1813 – Jan. 27, 1901
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (Italian: [dʒuˈzɛppe ˈverdi]; 9 or 10 October 1813 – 27 January 1901) was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. In his early operas, Verdi demonstrated a sympathy with the Risorgimento movement which sought the unification of Italy. He also participated briefly as an elected politician. The chorus “Va, pensiero” from his early opera Nabucco (1842), and similar choruses in later operas, were much in the spirit of the unification movement, and the composer himself became esteemed as a representative of these ideals. An intensely private person, Verdi, however, did not seek to ingratiate himself with popular movements and as he became professionally successful was able to reduce his operatic workload and sought to establish himself as a landowner in his native region. He surprised the musical world by returning, after his success with the opera Aida (1871), with three late masterpieces: his Requiem (1874), and the operas Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893). His operas remain extremely popular, especially the three peaks of his ‘middle period’: Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata, and the 2013 bicentenary of his birth was widely celebrated in broadcasts and performances.