About this Recording
8.553041 - VERDI, G.: Traviata (La) (Highlights) (Krause, Ramiro, Tichy, Rahbari)

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
La Traviata (Highlights)

Opera in 3 Acts
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave

Violetta Valéry - Monika Krause, soprano
Flora Bervoix - Rannveig Braga, mezzo-soprano
Annina - Ivica Neshybova, soprano
Alfredo Germont - Yordy Ramiro, tenor
Giorgio Germont, his father - Georg Tichy, baritone
Dottore Grenvil - Jozef Spacek, baritone

Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari, conductor


Giuseppe Verdi's career spans three quarters of the nineteenth century. He was born in 1813 at Le 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 giomo 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, 'Vittorlo Emanuele re d'Italia,' 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 Un ballo in maschera. He completed his last opera, FaIstaff 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 II 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 modem 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 moralising 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 opera opens with a Prelude [Track 1], including music that will re-appear with great poignancy later. The curtain rises on a brilliant scene, a reception at the house of the fashionable courtesan Violetta, who is talking to her friends when Alfredo comes in, a distant admirer. He gallantly introduces a drinking-song [Track 2], in which the whole company joins. Violetta falters for a moment, as the rest of the company move into an adjoining room, and Alfredo takes the opportunity to declare his love for her [Track 3], but she tells him not to think of her, since she has only friendship to offer him. Left alone, however, she begins to feel the power of true love, after a life of superficial pleasure [Track 4]: perhaps Alfredo is the man her heart really desires. Then she pulls herself together [Track 5], for she has always remained free to take her pleasure where she will. The voice of Alfredo is heard from the garden below, but she takes no heed of his declaration.

The second act opens in a country-house near Paris, where Violetta and AIfredo have established themselves [Track 6]. Alfredo, who has been out shooting, considers the happiness of the last three months with his mistress. Annina, Violetta's servant, tells him that her mistress is out, forced to sell property to pay for the house. Alfredo is horrified [Track 7] and filled with remorse at his own thoughtlessness. He rushes out, determined to prevent the sale. When Violetta returns, she finds a visitor, Germont, Alfredo's father, who explains how her relationship with his son damages the prospects of his innocent daughter [Track 8]. Violetta imagines that he only demands a temporary separation, but he insists on a permanent parting, which she would rather die than allow. Nevertheless he persuades her to this act of self-sacrifice, pointing out that, as she grows older, Alfredo will tire of her. Persuaded by this reasoning, Violetta agrees, asking only that Alfredo's sister be told of the sacrifice she is making, one that will surely bring her death. Alone again, she sits down to write a note making an assignation with Barone Douphol and another to her lover, seeking words to express her feelings [Track 9]. Alfredo comes in and she hides the letter, assuring him of her love and begging him never to stop loving her, as she runs into the garden. Alfredo sits down and opens a book, but a servant tells him that Violetta has left for Paris, leaving him a letter that tells him that she has left him for ever. Germont tries to comfort him and suggests he should now return home again [Track 10].

The second act ends with a scene set in the house of Violetta's friend Flora Bervoix. Here the guests are entertained by a group of masqueraders disguised as gypsy dancers [Track 11]. AIfredo appears and reproaches Violetta, who has promised not to reveal her reasons for leaving him and keeps her word. Germont leads his son away.

The last act is set in the poor quarters of Paris, where Violetta now lives. The music of the Prelude to the act recalls the happier days of her love for Alfredo. She is ill and the scene is in singular contrast to her earlier life. A letter from Germont [Track 13] tells her that Douphol, the lover she had taken to convince Alfredo of the finality of her action in leaving him, had been injured in a duel with Alfredo, who has left the country. Now, however, learning of her sacrifice, he is returning to beg her forgiveness. She looks in the mirror at her changed features, and realises that she is near to death. Annina announces a visitor, AIfredo, who embraces Violetta passionately [Track 14] and each now assures the other of their love. He suggests that they should make a new life for themselves away from Paris, where Violetta may recover and they may live together in happiness. His promise comes now too late. Annina fetches the doctor, returning also with Germont, who now understands that his action has caused Violetta's death [Track 15]. Even weaker, she 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 both of her prayers, once she is dead. 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.


Keith Anderson

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