Premiere – March 6, 1853, Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Italy
Premiere of the revised version – May 6, 1854, Teatro San Benedetto, Venice, Italy
Composer – Giuseppe Verdi
Librettist – Francesco Maria Piave
Running Time – ca. 2 hours and 15 minutes, plus Intervals
Ouverture – 5 minutes
Act 1 – 30 minutes
Act 2 – 1 hour and 5 minutes
Act 3 – 35 minutes
- Violetta Valéry: Soprano Lirico-Spinto di Agilità (Lyric-Dramatic Soprano with agility). The Lady with the Camellias. Luxury escort.
- Alfredo Germont: LyricTenor. The son of Giorgio.
- Giorgio Germont: Baritone. A well-off gentleman from the south of France.
Based on the novel La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady with the Camellias) by Alexandr Dumas the younger
Download this short Pdf-guide. Print it, fold it, and keep it in your pocket as a help when you’re at the Opera. Please keep your phone turned off when inside the theater.
A brief introduction.
Giuseppe Verdi lived through something that vaguely resembles the story in La Traviata. His first wife, Margherita Balezzia, died in 1840. Together they had two children, who both died at a young age and before the death of Margherita. So Verdi must have been quite devastated having lost his whole family in just a few years. He buried himself in work and in just five years, from 1842 to 1847, he wrote ten operas.
During this time he met Giuseppina Strepponi. She was a great primadonna at the height of her career, and she was beautiful with many lovers and admirers. The two had a long professional collaboration, but they also mixed their feelings of passion for each other into the relationship, and soon they were a couple.
When they formed a regular family back in Buseto, Italy, the local bigoted community wasn’t all that impressed. They weren’t married, and Giuseppina, being a singer and as such more or less a prostitute in the eyes of the everyday village community, was looked upon as something of a man-eater. While the famous composer could overlook the pity-minded neighbors, Giuseppina obviously took a harder blow. They married on August 29, 1859, and they lived happily together until the death of Giuseppina in 1897.
Background – The Opera La Traviata is set in…
In the center of the city on the wealthy part of the street. The first part of the second Act is outside Paris, in a beautiful Villa.
The time period is very interesting. Verdi wanted to set the Opera in a contemporary time-frame. The novel was written in 1848, and Marie Duplessis, the courtesan from whom Violetta is inspired, died in 1847. But at the premiere, the censure wouldn’t allow it. So the Opera was set in 1700.
Nowadays, theaters usually set it in the 1800s, but Verdi’s intention was to have the audience look at themselves. He wanted it to be the same people on stage as in the theater so that the cynicism and dualistic thinking of the typical 1800-upper class, would be obvious to the spectators.
For that reason, the Opera should be staged as a contemporary piece, not further back than the second half of 1900. It’s really a very modern story, about issues of modern society. Setting it in the 1800s cuts off something of its edge. That’s my own, very private opinion.
First Act – The luxurious Apartment of Violetta Valèry, Paris.
Evening. Violetta Valèry holds a party. There are laughter and good times in the air. The men are rich and older, the women are beautiful and younger. There are a few peripheric characters, Flora Bervoix, Violetta’s friend (Mezzo-soprano), Gastone de Letorière (Tenor), Marchese d’Obign (Bass), and the filthy rich Duphol… Baron Duphol (Baritone).
The young and handsome Alfredo Germont enters. It’s explained to Violetta that this youngster came to her house every day during her recent illness, to ask about her health. Violetta is taken by this and very flattered. Duphol obviously doesn’t like Alfredo. You can already detect jealousy between the two, for now in a playful manner.
Duphol is actually more than just a rich client. He’s the one paying for Violetta, and he represents something of a husband. It also means that Duphol is the main competitor and someone from whom Alfredo and Violetta must hide their love.
Violetta and Alfredo sing one of the highlight of the Opera… Brindisi (drinking song), Libiamo ne’ lieti calici che la bellezza infiora…
When everybody heads for another room, where the party continues with dancing, Violetta suddenly feels ill and stays behind to regain her strength. (We now know that she’s sick and that she will die in the third act.) As the others leave, Alfredo stays behind to be alone with Violetta. He explains his feelings for the surprised courtesan.
– Nobody in the world loves you, but me, he says.
She laughs, but the intention of Alfredo is obviously correct. His love is different from that of the other men. They just want to use her, while he experiences the kind of deep feeling you can build something upon… True love.
They sing a beautiful duet, Un dì, felice, eterea, mi balenaste innante, (One happy, ethereal day you flashed before me).
She explains that the kind of relationship he’s thinking of is out of the question.
– I’m not capable of that sort of heroic sentiment. I don’t know love, and you should seek it elsewhere.
But when Alfredo leaves, Violetta cuts a flower and gives it to him (The Lady of the Camellias…). He asks why, and she says to give it back to her.
– When it’s wilted.
– Oh, God…. Tomorrow!
– Yes, tomorrow.
They are interrupted by Gastone. All the party-animals leave the house after having sung Si ridesta in ciel l’aurora (The dawn is awakening…), a fast chorus intervention.
Left alone, Violetta sings E’ strano… è strano / Sempre libera degg’io trasvolar di gioia in gioia (It’s strange… / I shall always be free to fly from adventure to adventure).
This is one of those concert pieces that good sopranos put at the end of the recital to show off. It’s long, it’s full of emotions, and difficulties and it ends with a high E flat, or at least it should if the singer is the right one. More about the vocality of Violetta here.
She is very intrigued by Alfredo’s strong feelings for her. He is different from the other men, and he has a much more genuine affection for her. She struggles between the foolishness to engage with a young boy from out of town, and her obvious position among the noblesse of Paris. Alfredo’s voice is heard from the street outside.
There’s no clear indication of what happens between them, but the next act will make it all fall into place.
Second Act – First part – A Country Villa outside of Paris.
Violetta stays at a Villa in the countryside outside Paris to cure her consumption, tuberculosis. The Villa is owned by Duphol. Alfredo lives there two, but the bill is paid by Violetta.
Alfredo sings Lunge da Lei, per me non v’ha diletto / De’ miei bollenti spiriti. In this Aria, he explains that they’ve lived happily together for three months and that Violetta has renounced her life and her lovers in Paris for him.
Annina, the housemaid, (Mezzo-Soprano/Soprano) says when asked, that she’s going to Paris to sell off the last of Violetta’s property. Alfredo suddenly understands where the money comes from, and is very upset. He sings his second Aria Oh mio rimorso! Oh infamia!… e vissi in tale errore!… (Oh remorse, Oh infamy… I have lived in an illusion)
This is one of the few Verdi Arias for tenor that has a hìgh C at the end. No, it’s not in the original score, but if the tenor has good heights, he would want to show off here. (If he stops singing the last 8 or 12 bars, you know that he’s preparing for the high note.)
He runs out.
Violetta enters. She’s carefree and serene. Her new life brings her immense happiness and her love for Alfredo grows stronger for each day.
After a short while, a gentleman asks to have a word with Violetta. It is Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, also called just Germont. He is there to ask Violetta to leave Alfredo… To release him and let him go.
This is the key scene in the opera. When he enters he is very arrogant and patronizing. Alfredo’s father has, in fact, misinterpreted the situation. He thinks that the woman is taking advantage of his young and inexperienced son. But immediately he’s surprised by her proud attitude and the luxurious interior.
– I am a woman… And I’m in my own house. Now I will hear you, more for your sake than for mine, she says after being told by Germont that she is ruining his son’s future.
Germont sings his first Aria Pura siccome un angelo (Pure as an angel…) where he says that Alfredo’s sister will not be able to marry as long as Violetta holds on to this sinful relationship.
Germont understands. talking to her. that he was wrong about the situation. She is not the one exploiting his son, but actually, the one paying for him. He also understands that her love for Alfredo is much stronger than he expected and that the sacrifice he is asking from her is so much bigger than he thought.
Because he wants her to break up with Alfredo. Not only for a period to let the sister marry (possibly an excuse to put more weight on the words), but to leave him for good.
She explains that her love for Alfredo is all she has now and that without him, she is nothing. Still, she agrees.
– How? she asks
– Tell him, you don’t love him anymore, Germont answers.
– He won’t believe me.
– Then, leave…
– He will follow.
They bid each other farewell. Violetta with a broken heart, and Germont with a new understanding of Violetta’s choices, a newfound respect for the courtesan, and quite a bit of doubt if he’s done the right thing…
So, Violetta first writes to Duphol, and then she starts writing the farewell-letter to Alfredo. He enters behind her without her noticing it. She hides the letter, and with great agitation, she cries out her eternal love for him.
This is another highlight in the opera. At the end of the short scene, she sings 18 bars of pure dramatic expression Amami Alfredo… Quant’io t’amo (Love me, Alfredo, as much as I love you)
The difficulty with the part of Violetta is that it has such extreme progress throughout the opera. Here you would need a heavy almost dramatic Soprano to get the correct vocal and emotional character.
She runs out. Alfredo doesn’t really understand anything, but when the message is delivered to him he falls into the arms of his father (who conveniently appears right behind him).
Germont sings his most famous Aria Di Provenza il mar il suol. He’s trying to convince Alfredo to come back home, to Provence, to his family. But Alfredo is completely consumed by jealousy. He believes that Violetta has turned back to Duphol in Paris, and he runs away to pursue her.
Second Act – Second part – A Party at Flora’s house.
So, Violetta is back in Paris, and there’s another party at Flora’s. The chorus sings two famous pieces. First, the women sing Noi siamo Zingarelle… (We are gypsies…), then the men sing Di Madride noi siam mattadori… (We are matadors from Madrid…).
Here, there’s usually some sort of ballet. These interventions don’t really have much to do with the story. They are just there to entertain the audience, and they appear after an hour and a half when the concentration could be dropping. We are also in the middle of the very long second act. The motifs are, as often is the case in the operas of the 18th and 19th centuries, exotic.
Alfredo enters… jealous, focused, and generally pissed off. Duphol, also senses a very strong challenge from him. Violetta is confused and desperately tries to stick with her story.
There are card-games among the guests, and Alfredo challenges Duphol to a game. Alfredo is lucky and wins a lot of money from the Baron.
This Is obviously a metaphor for a duel between the two rivals.
The dinner is served and they leave the card-table with the promise to resume the game later…
– In any way you want, Alfredo says with defiance.
After a short while, Violetta rushes onto the stage followed by Alfredo. They quarrel. Violetta can’t speak sincerely with him. She tries to make him leave because of the threat that Duphol could actually impose… He could kill him. Alfredo, on the other hand, is furious. His jealousy and hurt pride make him lose all sense of proportions. He is convinced that Violetta just wants to get rid of him in favor of her new/old lover. He pushes her, and when she finally admits that she loves the baron, something snaps in him.
– Or tutti a me! (Come here, everybody!)
And he stands in the middle of the room surrounded by the crowd, singing out all his frustration about his love.
– I gave her all, everything she wanted. But I was blind, deceived, and now I call you all here to witness… That I have paid her for the hour…
And with that, he throws all the money he earned from the card game in her face.
Of course, everyone is terrified and indignant, and when Germont, Alfredo’s father enters he too condemns the conduct of his son.
– Where is my son? he says, looking straight at him… I can’t find him.
Violetta sings a beautiful arioso telling Alfredo how much she truly loves him, and that even this terrible insult, can’t change that.
Alfredo understands what he’s done, and is again overwhelmed by sorrow and regret. The scene ends with a big concertato where everybody expresses their own personal relationship to the main characters. Duphol sings that he’s going to kill Alfredo.
The chorus offers support and comfort to Violetta.
Third Act – Back in Violetta’s apartment in Paris.
The Act begins with a beautiful preludium where the soft 1st violins play an almost inaudible, sad melody.
Violetta’s bedroom. She is now very sick, and the first short scenes let us understand something about her situation. Doktor Grenvil (Bass), is visiting and before leaving he tells Annina that Violetta only has hours to live.
She is also quite alone. We understand that the friends she had, at least to some extent have turned their back on her.
She sends away Annina and reads a letter from Germont, supposedly for the umpteenth time.
In the letter, Germont says Alfredo and Duphol actually dueled. Duphol got hurt but will recover. Alfredo knows the truth and is hurrying to Paris to ask her for forgiveness.
The only time the spoken voice is used. is when the letter ends and Violetta cries out…
– E’ tardi!… It’s (too) late!
And she sings her second big Aria Addio del passato bei sogni ridenti… (Farewell to the past, beautiful, happy dreams…).
It’s a slow, suffering, and very demanding song almost completely in the middle register. Again you would need a new voice for Violetta. This time an even darker, more dramatic color, even though the aria ends with an A natural that should be so weak that it almost isn’t heard at all.
The Carnival is heard from the street in the form of the chorus Largo al quadrupede sir della festa off stage.
Annina comes running in to announce the arrival of Alfredo.
They fall into each other’s arms and sing the duet Parigi, o caro/a noi lasceremo… (We shall leave Paris and stay together… your/my health will flourish again.)
But Violetta is too sick, and Alfredo understands that he is, in fact, too late.
Later also Germont arrives, together with the Doctor. Alfredo’s father admits the wrong he has done to her, and he understands the magnitude of the sacrifice she did for him.
. Grenvil, do you see? … I can die embraced by those who love me…
This is an important phrase, as it confirms Violetta as a consumable object. The men who admired her when she was well and beautiful, have now left her. The only ones still standing by her are Alfredo and his father… And of course, Annina.
When a single violin resumes the love-theme from the first act, she suddenly stands up and sings that her pain is gone, that she feels stronger. And while the orchestra accompanies her newfound life-force, she falls to the ground.
Violetta dies in the arms of her beloved Alfredo.
Things to look out for.
5 minutes Brindisi / Drinking song.
20 minutes E’ strano, èstrano / Sempre libera Violetta’s solo scene… Yes, it’s a long one, almost 10 minutes of singing. Check if she’s doing the E-flat at the end.
Beginning of the Act Lunge da lei / De’ miei bollenti spiriti. Alfredo’s aria. Oh mio rimorso! Oh infamia follows. Check if he’s singing the high C right before running off stage.
7 minutes The long and demanding scene between Violetta and Germont begins.
30 minutes Amami Alfredo. The 18 bars of farewell from Violetta before she rushes out and leaves him. It’s right after Alfredo comes in and surprises her when writing the letter.
34 minutes Di Provenza il mar il suol. Germont’s big aria.
55 minutes The throwing-money-scene, and the following final-concertato.
9 minutes Violetta reads the letter from Germont.
Following Addio del passato… Violetta’s second big aria.
17 minutes Alfredo arrives.
26 minutes Germont arrives.
About La Traviata.
From 1851 until the premiere of La Traviata in 1953, Giuseppe Verdi wrote three of his most famous operas… The other two being Rigoletto, and Il Trovatore (The Troubadour). Together they are often called The Verdi trilogy, as they were written in a short time, and together they confirmed Verdi’s international fame as the nr.1 opera-composer in the world at the time. They do not form a singularity though, as there is no connection between them.
Of these three, La Traviata is the most performed, and arguably the one that best has resisted the patina of time. Apart from a few issues (…A sister who can’t marry because of the woman with whom her brother lives.), the essence of the story feels very modern. It’s clear that Verdi had a close and personal relationship with the argument.
The premier took place at Teatro La Fenice in Venice, but probably due to a cast that wasn’t the normal Verdi-top class-premier-singers, it wasn’t received with the usual enthusiasm. And having a prostitute as the main character didn’t help.
Verdi re-elaborated the opera somewhat, and two months later it premiered for a second time, at the former nr. 1 opera house in Venice… Teatro San Benedetto. (In Venice there were five opera houses at the time). From this point onward, it has been a success all over the world until our days.
From 2004 till 2019 it was the most performed opera in the world.
The Voice of Violetta
- When Maria Callas broke all contact with La Scala in Milan in 1959, the greatest Violetta of all time left the Milan Opera house for good. So big was the loss that the famous Loggione, (Connoisseurs – ever-present, and always ready to make a lot of fuss when something is not of their liking.) didn’t accept anyone that wasn’t her equal. In 1965, Mirella Freni sang it a few times with Karajan conducting, but after her, nobody could sing Violetta without being constantly buuhed from the crowds under the roof-top. In 1990 the theatre finally had come up with the solution.. Tiziana Fabbricini, a Soprano from Asti, not too far away from Milan, sang it… And the Loggione kept silent. Her voice is a blueprint of that of Maria Callas.
- Violetta needs a lyrical voice with extraordinary beauty. But, that’s not enough… In the first act, you would need a very agile soprano, in the second, you’ll have the dramatic scene with Germont, but after that, there is the money-scene with Alfredo where you need to be sweet and soft. Then in the third act, the part is dramatic. Often the choice is between a good, full soprano who can do the first part of the second act and the third act justice, or a lighter soprano, perfect for the first act, and the high E flat. In the past, there were sopranos with dramatic voices who had agility as well. But they can’t be found anymore… The last one was probably Maria Callas. And that’s the reason why La Scala of Milan couldn’t do La Traviata for 25 years. Any way you look at it, today, Violetta has to be somewhat of a compromise.
Download this short Pdf-guide. Print it, fold it, and keep it in your pocket as a help when you’re at the Opera. Please keep your phone turned off when inside the theater.