Traviata, La (The Fallen Woman)
  • Giuseppe Verdi. Opera in three acts. 1853.
  • Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after the play La Dame aux camélias (The Lady of the Camelias) by Alexandre Dumas fils.
  • First performance at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, on 6th March 1853.
CHARACTERS

Violetta Valéry, a courtesan

soprano

Flora Bervoix, her friend

mezzo-soprano

Annina, her maid

soprano

Alfredo Germont

tenor

Giorgio Germont, his father

baritone

Gastone, Vicomte de Letorières

tenor

Baron Douphol

baritone

Marchese D’Obigny

bass

Doctor Grenvil

bass

Giuseppe, Violetta’s servant

tenor

Violetta, at a party in her house, is moved to learn that the young Alfredo Germont is in love with her. There are, however, hints already that she is suffering from consumption. They set up house together in the country, but Violetta secretly sells her jewels to meet the expenses they now incur. Alfredo learns of this from Violetta’s maid, Annina, and goes to Paris to raise money. In his absence his father arrives, seeking to persuade Violetta to leave Alfredo, whose behaviour prejudices the marriage chances of his sister, as well as his own prospects. Violetta sacrifices her own feelings and accepts an invitation from her friend Flora Bervoix which will take her back to her old life, now under the protection of Baron Douphol. She leaves a note for Alfredo, telling him of her decision, while old Germont tries to comfort his son, without revealing anything of Violetta’s true motives. Alfredo then bursts into the party at Flora’s house and insults Violetta, whom he finds with her new protector. She falls back, fainting, as the second act closes. In the third act Violetta is at home, near to death. Germont has told his son of the sacrifice she had made, and Alfredo now returns, holding her in his arms as she dies.

La traviata is one of those operas that has retained a firm position in current repertoire, never failing in its effect. The prelude to the first act uses the tender and melancholy music that later precedes Violetta’s death, as well as Violetta’s plea to Alfredo to love her. The music preceding Violetta’s death returns in the prelude to the third act. At Violetta’s there is a lively drinking-song or brindisi, Libiamo (Let us drink), led by Alfredo, and as the guests go into the next room, he declares his love for her in Un dì felice (One happy day). Her response to his declarations is heard in her later reflective Ah, fors’è lui (Ah perhaps it is he my heart desires). In the second act Alfredo considers the happiness that life with Violetta has brought him in De’ miei bollenti spiriti (Fervent my dream of ecstasy). Germont’s attempts to remind his son of their home, Di Provenza il mar, il suol (The sea, the land of Provence), have provided baritones with a moving aria, and there is later contrast in the masquerading gypsy and Spanish dances at the house of Flora Bervoix. There is, of course, much else in a work, which, although set in 1700, might equally be supposed to have a contemporary setting and relevance in the Paris of the 1850s, an element of realism less apparent in operas drawing, according to tradition, on the historical activities of kings and princes.