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Work: La traviata

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Fact file
ComposerVerdi, Giuseppe (1813-1901)
PeriodRomantic
Year1853
Work typeOpera / Oratorio
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StockholmLa traviataNew production

© Morgan Norman
Verdi: La traviata
Domingo Hindoyan; Ellen Lamm; Royal Swedish Opera; Vincenzo Milletari; Magdalena Åberg; Ida Falk Winland

TokyoLa traviata

La traviata
Verdi: La traviata
Ivan Repušić; Vincent Boussard; New National Theatre; Vincent Lemaire; Myrtò Papatanasiu; Iván Ayón Rivas; Shingo Sudo

BerlinLa traviataNew production

La traviata
Verdi: La traviata
Ainārs Rubiķis; Nicola Raab; Komische Oper Berlin; Jordan De Souza; Madeleine Boyd; Annemarie Woods; Simon Berger

New York CityLa traviata

Verdi: La traviata
Karel Mark Chichon; Michael Mayer; Metropolitan Opera; Christine Jones; Susan Hilferty; Aleksandra Kurzak; Dmytro Popov

MunichLa traviata

La traviata
Verdi: La traviata
Giampaolo Bisanti; Günter Krämer; Bavarian State Opera; Andreas Reinhardt; Carlo Diappi; Ermonela Jaho; Liparit Avetisyan
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A solid Traviata closes the San Carlo season in Naples

Maria Mudryak (Violetta) © Francseco Squeglia
A production apt for audiences who prefer a traditional, intimate staging of the most often performed of all operatic works.
***11
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Quality singing in a setting with novel accents at Glimmerglass

Amanda Woodbury (Violetta) © Karli Cadel | The Glimmerglass Festival
Francesca Zambello sets the whole opera as a flashback, showing, during the prelude, the heroine surrounded by doctors and nurses in a sanatorium for patients dying from tuberculosis.
****1
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LA Opera's La Traviata: all about Adela Zaharia

Adela Zaharia (Violetta) © Ken Howard
As Zaharia inhabited her role, the opera became almost entirely about her, to the extent that one wanted to watch her every movement and hear her every syllable.
*****
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Blue is the new Violet: an outstanding Traviata debut

Angel Blue (Violetta Valéry) © ROH | Catherine Ashmore
On her house debut, in Covent Garden's second cast of the year, Angel Blue is completely convincing as Verdi's doomed courtesan; Benjamin Bernheim is an unconventional but compelling Alfredo; Simone Piazzola a persuasive Germont père.
****1
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Ermonela Jaho makes a haunting return to Covent Garden’s Traviata

Ermonela Jaho (Violetta) © ROH | Catherine Ashmore
The Albanian soprano, who made a spectacular jump-in for her house debut in Richard Eyre's production in 2008, makes a splendid return. 
****1
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Biography

Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata is the epitome of High Romantic Italian Opera. For some, that means it’s the stereotype of all opera: a tragic, romantic story set to bright lights and stirring, beautiful music, complete with a beautiful heroine who dies in the last act, slowly and tunefully.

Opera-haters may scoff at La Traviata and opera-lovers may smile benignly on its clichés, but one thing is clear: the opera is hugely, massively popular, with hundreds of performances in over a hundred productions every year. If you add the tourist-oriented performances that are found weekly or more in many cities in Italy, La Traviata is probably the single most-performed opera in the world: only Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro comes close. There’s something deep and important at work - or perhaps a combination of things.

First and foremost, La Traviata’s allure comes from the melodies in its many set piece arias. Act I numbers like the Brindisi, the showpiece drinking song, and Un Di Felice, in which our hero describes the happy day he met his beloved, bring gladness to the heart of the most cynical and detached of listeners: the opera contains a succession of these. Verdi also provides his leading soprano with plenty of opportunities for coloratura fireworks: runs, trills and high notes abound. Another part of the appeal is the glittering setting: smart drawing rooms of the beau monde of 1830s Paris are meat and drink to set and costume designers who can convey spectacular visions of the high life to which many operagoers aspire - or at least yearn for. If you are looking for an evening of beautiful spectacle and beautiful music, search no further than the Act II scene 2 divertissement: Flora Bervoix’s party brightened by a chorus of gypsies and Spanish bullfighters, followed by the high drama of Alfredo’s scene at the card tables.

Perhaps all this glitz and tunefulness makes it a little too easy to miss the point. Behind the glamour lies a savage attack on the sexual hypocrisy of the times. The opera is based on the Alexandre Dumas novel La Dame Aux Camélias, a fictionalised account of the life of courtesan Marie Duplessis and her love affairs with Dumas himself and the son of the Duc de Guiche. Both the novel and Francesco Maria Piave’s opera libretto rail against the grotesque immorality whereby rich men were expected to have mistresses from the “demi monde” but required to keep their liaisons secret to avoid any stain on their family name. Marie/Violetta’s death from tuberculosis, alone and discarded by the world, is a shocking indictment of the prevailing social norms of the day. The moral intent of the opera is clear to see for anyone who wishes it - but, if you prefer, easy to ignore.

In contrast to the première of Verdi and Piave’s earlier morality tale Rigoletto, Verdi considered the 1853 opening night of La Traviata’s to have been a “fiasco”. The story clearly shows the contradictions of the genre. Violetta’s death has become one of the clichés of opera: we are supposedly a watching a frail creature dying from a life-consuming illness - the Victorian name for tuberculosis was “consumption” - whereas what is often in front of us is a voluminously built soprano in an even more voluminous costume projecting a powerful voice to the back of the auditorium. Verdi was aware of the danger and requested that the role be recast from the overweight soprano Fanny Salvini-Donatelli: the management of La Fenice refused the request. In the event, Salvini-Donatelli received great praise, described as singing the coloratura passages “with an indescribable skill and perfection”. However, Dr. Grenville’s announcement in the third act that Violetta had only hours to live caused outbursts of laughter in the audience, much to Verdi’s discomfiture.

Those days are long forgotten by most: opera house managers can bank on La Traviata to fill their houses with its matchless and seductive combination of glittering setting, melodious music and virtuoso singing.

Notable recordings of La Traviata feature Joan Sutherland in 1962 at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, with Carlo Bergonzi as Alfredo and Sir John Pritchard conducting and Maria Callas’s 1955 recording with Giuseppe di Stefano, conducted at La Scala by Carlo Maria Giulini. Angela Gheorghiu’s 1994 recording at Covent Garden is also well regarded, as is Ileana Cotrubas’s 1997 performance with Plácido Domingo.

Plácido Domingo and Lucia Popp signing the “Brindisi”:


Luciano Pavarotti showing outstanding vocal control singing “Un Di Felice” with Joan Sutherland in 1965:


And for something completely different: La Traviata performed in 2008 in Zürich railway station:

David Karlin
13th February 2010