October 28 & 30, 2005
Narrative in a nutshell
Violetta, a courtesan, falls in love with Alfredo, whose father forbids their relationship. She sacrifices her love, but the loss is too great for her and she dies.
If you have access to CD’s of La Traviata, perhaps you will enjoy reading the following guide, while you listen. Each title below is used as a guide to paint the scene’s action of the major musical numbers.
Curtain: This eerie orchestral opener sets the scene for the emotional work of the opera. It is a miracle of Verdi’s genius that he conjures up the tragedy of a love haunted by illness and sacrifice before anyone even sets foot on stage.
Across a crowded room: It’s 1850, and we are in a world of champagne corks, crinolines and courtesans. In this fast-paced opening scene we hear the young and beautiful Violetta Valery (soprano) chatting with some friends who are mostly unimportant to the plot. She has recently recovered from an attack of tuberculosis, and is now giving a party. She is introduced to an admirer, Alfredo Germont (tenor). At first Alfredo is tongue-tied and shy, but a friend persuades him to perform a drinking song (in Italian called a brindisi) to entertain the party goers.
Brindisi- Let the flirting commence: This is the first big number of the opera, and one of its greatest hits. Alfredo tried to impress Violetta by toasting the pleasures of love and she teases him by saluting the pleasures of fickleness.
The spectre at the feast: Our hero and heroine begin to chat while the rest of the party is dancing in the background. (Verdi uses an offstage orchestra to achieve this effect.) Violetta trembles and stumbles, and Alfredo realizes she is still ill.
Torment and delight: Alfredo wants to look after Violetta, and sings his big ‘love theme’ (Di quell’amor)–the tune which is to haunt her for the rest of her short operatic life. He says his love for he has been the torment and delight of his heart. Violetta is consumed and laughs at him, but also asked him to return later. The rest of the party say goodbye.
Is the lady for turning?: One of the most famous arias ever written for soprano. Alone, Violetta wonders whether she is capable of feeling love. After she has sung Alfredo’s love theme she decides she must always remain free to flit from pleasure to pleasure. But Alfredo is outside her window, singing his love song again…
Act Two (part one)
The good life: We are in the country house near Paris, and Alfredo tells us that he has been living with Violetta for three months.
Everything has a price: Alfredo is full of joy–but Violetta’s servant, Annina (soprano), tells him that her mistress has had to sell many of her possessions to support them.
A fly in the ointment: Alfredo is tormented by guilt at her sacrifice, and leaves to go to Paris to get money. Violetta enters, and is confronted by Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father (baritone). He mostly sings lugubrious, weighty tunes. She guesses what he is going to ask.
Torn in two: Germont tells Violetta that Alfredo has a sister “pure as an angel” whose intended marriage is threatened by her brother’s connection with a courtesan. In an agitated, passionate scene, Violetta decides–for Alfredo’s own good–that she must leave him.
Sacrifice: Violetta senses that the sacrifice will kill her, and begs Germont (and his daughter) to remember her kindly.
A lover’s farewell: Alfredo returns, and fins Violetta confused and weepy. She assures him of her love, and then leaves without explaining her real intentions. A moment later, a servant brings him a letter from her, and he explodes in despair.,
The generation gap: Germont returns to the house, and attempts to console his own with platitudinous memories of childhood happiness. Alfredo brushes him off.
Revenge!: Germont tries again, but Alfredo isn’t even listening. Instead he rushes off to find Violetta in Paris.
Act Two (part two)
Party time!: A friend of Violetta’s, Flora Bervoix (mezzo-soprano), is giving a party for the same old crowd from Act One. Some of the female guests perform a gypsy song, and then the men sing a bull-fighting number.
The game of cards: A scene of great tension, pregnant with foreboding and doom. Alfredo arrives at the party, shortly followed by Violetta, now back with her old flame Baron Douphol (baritone). The Baron is jealous and challenges Alfredo to a game of cards, which Alfredo wins. Violetta calls him over to warn him of the Baron’s jealous and violent temper. He can’t bear her concern, and in front of the rest of the party goers, throws money at her feet as payment for her sexual favors. The Chorus scream their condemnation of his insult.
Fatal misunderstandings: In a powerful end to the scene, Germont enters and reproves his son. Alfredo immediately feels terrible for what he has done, the chorus sympathizes with Violetta, and she soars above everything, singing of the love she has promised to renounce.
The end is near: The haunting music of the prelude is reprised, and paints a scene of pathos and suffering. Violetta is on her deathbed, attend by Annina. Doctor Grenvil (bass) comes to visit her but knows she only has hours to live.
Too little, too late!: Over the ‘love theme’, Violetta recites out a letter from Germont. Alfredo has fought a duel with the Baron, who is recovering, and he know knows the truth about Violetta’s sacrifice. Alfredo and Germont are both coming to see her, and ask for her pardon. In the most hear-rending moment of the opera, she cries out “E’ tardi” (it’s too late!) and launches into another famous aria, in which she says goodbye to her life.
Life goes on: Violetta listens as a carnival passes by outside.
Reunited: Alfredo arrives, and they reaffirm their love.
A fresh start: Alfredo sings of his hopes for a new life for them outside of Paris. Violetta begins to hope she may recover, but soon realizes she is too close to death and, over shuddering, pulsing string chords, cries out that she is too young to die.
A dying wish: Germont arrives, full of remorse. Violetta begs to be remembered kindly. Suddenly her pain disappears and her energy returns. She stands up–and for one ecstatic moment she believes she is well again–and then falls dead to the floor.