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8.660011-12 - VERDI: Traviata (La)
Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)
Opera in 3 Acts
Violetta Valéry - Monika Krause, soprano
Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
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.
Verdi’s subsequent 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.
La Traviata , 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 d’Obigny.
[1/4] Gastone, 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.
[1/5] Alfredo 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 superficial pleasure.
[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 declaration.
[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.
[1/13] Annina, 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.
[1/15] Violetta enters and is given a letter from Flora inviting her to a ball that evening, but now she has no interest in such things.
[1/16] Her 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.
[1/17] Germont, 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.
[1/18] Violetta 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.[1/19] It is a great sacrifice that Germont demands and one that Violetta is at first reluctant to make.
[1/20] Germont 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.
[1/21] Eventually, 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 him.
[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 company.
[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 rival.
[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 Violetta’s room.
[2/13] Annina announces a visitor, Alfredo, who embraces Violetta passionately. Each now seeks pardon of the other.
[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 Violetta’s death.
[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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