La Traviata, 1853
Not another Traviata!
It suffers today as the most known and clichéd Verdi
opera, a “reliable classic” wheeled out to sell seats.
Occasional attempts to produce it radically fail.
Here’s the Met’s in 2012 with Natalie Dessay.
(Though check out “Becoming Traviata” with Dessay
and ENO’s recent effort.)
Our challenge is to see it anew for its psychological
depth, moral courage, and musical detail.
First, see it for what it is. Listen to this thoughtful
introduction – and read the words they are singing.
She was a real woman, the Lady of the Camellias in
Dumas’ novel, a “fallen woman” and societal success
with wit, charm, and beauty who died of tuberculosis
in 1847 at age 23. Verdi determined to set her in an
opera, though at this time (mid nineteenth century) it
challenged the censors and had to be set in the past. It
was also radical in its intimacy – nothing heroic about
this opera. And, like Rigoletto two years earlier, it
brought characters alive in music that carried the
Violetta is not simply tragic. Confronting the moral
stereotypes, Verdi gives her gentle, noble music, a
“thread of dignity” in all her music across the drama.
Complex and strong as well as conflicted, she drives
the opera in Verdi’s most challenging soprano role, in
dramatic conflict with the male representatives of
pure love and traditional honour. It’s an opera of
Verdi unified the music and underscored the drama
through the use of techniques such as repeated
phrases (Violetta’s “Ah, fors’è lui” echoes Alfredo’s
declaration of love and continues as a love theme),
instrumentation (high violins underscore Violetta’s
character from the overture onward), coloratura
ornamentation that reflects Violetta’s agitation
(thus justifying what otherwise can seem empty
virtuosity), and musical continuity (through blurring
the line between recitative and aria). (Britannica)
Now focus on that most famous intertwining of
voices in Act 1. In a highly complex weaving of
music, Violetta’s “Sempre Libera” (Always Free) is
challenged by Alfredo’s declaration for a love that is
mysterious and noble (misterioso, altero). Among
recent performances, here’s Renee Fleming’s tipsy
and moody Violetta battling the ode to love from
Joseph Calleja offstage. Here’s Angela Gheorghiu -
same dress, very different Violetta.
Friday June 1st
Our presentations - Met Opera’s Zefferelli’s
production with Teresa Stratas & Placido Domingo;
and Opera Australia’s on the Harbour, with Emma
Matthews and Gianluca Terranova.