La Traviata

Music Giuseppe Verdi Text Francesco Maria Piave & Alexandre Dumas (Sohn)
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20. March 2021
Saturday
2 intermissions
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Cast 20.03.2021

Musical Direction Giacomo Sagripanti
Production Simon Stone
Stage Design Robert Cousins
Costume Design Alice Babidge
Lighting Design James Farncombe
Video Zakk Hein
Violetta Valéry Pretty Yende
Flora Bervoix Margaret Plummer
Annina Donna Ellen
Alfred Germont Frédéric Antoun
George Germont Igor Golovatenko

Details

Amidst the first fragile and gentle sounds of this opera is an air of foreboding death that lingers, and yet Violetta Valéry’s enthusiasm for life’s luxurious pastimes is still unwavering: She is the »It-Girl« of Parisian society and throws a lavish party during which she tries to mask her seriously ill health. It is here, where she is introduced to Alfredo, a young man from the country. He has fallen in love with her, while she, at first, mockingly rejects his passionate advances, telling him she was not created for a love as intense as his. But she cannot stop thinking of his hauntingly enthusiastic declaration of love, and she then decides to start a new life at his side. The two withdraw from society and return to the country. After a few months of living together, Alfredo's father invades the couple's retreat and forces Violetta to leave her partner: she is a danger to his family's happiness and honour. Violetta acquiesces, and to make the separation easier on Alfredo, she hides the real reason for leaving him. When he confronts her at a ball in the capital, she claims to love someone else, whereupon the desperate Alfredo publicly humiliates her as being a harlot for sale. Weeks later, he learns that Violetta has sacrificed their happily ever after for his family, but it is too late: all hope is shattered upon Violetta's deathbed.
Giuseppe Verdi's opera, first performed in 1853, is based on »La Dame aux Camélias«, or »The Fallen Lady«, a novel and play by Alexandre Dumas the Younger, who brought the myth of the selfless sinner into the present times of 1848: The figure of the courtesan is exposed to the purifying powers of suffering and love, which, in challenging bourgeois morality, make her character acceptable to a bourgeois readership. For the first time, Verdi chose contemporary material for a tragic opera and, what’s more, used an »objectionable« main character. »For Venice I will do the 'Lady of the Camellias', which may have 'Traviata' as its title,« is what he wrote to his friend Cesare de Sanctis. »A contemporary subject. Another one might not have made it, because of the costumes, the time and a thousand other silly scruples. ...I do it with the greatest of pleasures.«
A performance in contemporary costumes was important to the composer, but found himself unable to have the last word regarding the imposed censorships: the plot had to be moved »to the time of Richelieu«, i.e. to the first half of the 17th century. Verdi could only try to remedy the damage done, as the librettist Francesco Maria Piave wrote in a letter to the director of the theatre putting on the premiere: »As far as the costumes are concerned, Verdi agrees with the greatest displeasure to move the plot to the past. However, he does not allow wigs under any circumstances, which is why Mr. de Antoni must be instructed to use costumes from the period immediately before wigs were introduced.« This falsification continued into the 20th century, and some sheet music and text editions still show the story being set »in the 17th century«.
Nevertheless, the criticism of the bourgeois-capitalist double standard of morality as shown in the play was likely to be noticed even during the premiere, perhaps that is why it resulted in such a fiasco. Verdi was disappointed but did not doubt his work: »For my part, I believe that the last word about 'Traviata' was not spoken yesterday.« It would become one of the most performed operas in the world to date.
The music in the opera is in line with the theme of an era that is nearing its end by setting itself up in a high tempo – as if there were no time to lose in view of the approaching end. As if breathlessly, the sound of a lavish social scene made up of galloping and waltz notes underpin the mundane conversational tone. Refined spatial effects shift the focus of action from the masses to the individual: With her weakness and her fear of death, the ill protagonist remains alone in the midst of a festive crowd. The intimate drama of Violetta inspired the composer – who treats the material with an unusually high degree of realism – to create scenic chamber music. The use of spoken language in Violetta's final agony also has a direct influence to this day in the context of an aesthetic that is largely committed to the vocal ideal of bel canto opera.
Pretty Yende, who will appear for the first time in September in »L'elisir d'amore« at the Vienna State Opera, can now be heard as Violetta Valéry, with Frédéric Antoun as Alfredo at her side. And conductor Giacomo Sagripanti, winner of the International Opera Award as »Young Conductor of the Year«, will for the first time conduct a premiere at the Vienna State Opera after »L'elisir d'amore« and »La Fille du régiment«.
Director Simon Stone stages Violetta Valéry as a terminally ill influencer who remains trapped in her »Instagram world« even when she and her lover retire to the country. Everything private is public in her case, but the public urban space becomes her only retreat during her moments of weakness.

Co-production partner

A co-production with Opéra national de Paris.