The MET Opera House/ “La Traviata” by Verdi/ Tuesday October 25th, 2022.
Welcome back friends!
Welcome back, this week, once again, to the fabulous world of opera, and to one of the most celebrated, arresting, compelling, romantic, poignant, and yet spirited operas, ever written.
Yay! yay! yay!
Welcome to a powerful, melodramatic, poetic, and particularly sublime love story, set in the mid 19th century, welcome to (1853), “La Traviata” (“The fallen woman”), by illustrious, and prominent opera composer, the great, inspired, and iconic, Giuseppe Verdi (1858-1924).
Yay! yay! yay!
So what is “La Traviata” about?
In a nutshell, “Traviata” is about a beautiful, young, free spirited, and ill (consumption ridden), 19th century courtesan (Violetta), who does not believe in love, and who will, yet, in fact, fall in love with one of her “admirers”, (Alfredo), upon meeting him, at one of her own elegant and vain society “parties”, and who will also, unfortunately for the two of them, ultimately, have to give Alfredo up, after living with him in the countryside for a while (and even though, she has only months left to live), at Alfredo’s father’s pressing request, to “salvage” Alfredo’s honor, which she does, as Violetta is an honorable woman, and only wants, whatever the “times” and “society” she lives in, deem best for him. And ultimately, Violetta will die soon after, from consumption, right before, she reunites briefly first, with Alfredo, to bid goodbye to one another, and wish him well.
And of course, how incredibly sad, as by the beginning of second act, of this three act opera, Violetta and Alfredo, truly love one another.
And this stunning, heart breaking, melodramatic, “Traviata” opera, has a wonderfully moving and poetic libretto, by illustrious Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876), a long time collaborator of Verdi’s, including on “Rigoletto”, “La Forza del destino” and “Macbeth”, among other works.
I particularly enjoy Piave’s beautiful, simple, and imaginative images of love, which Alfredo sings multiple times, through out the opera to Violetta, illustrating what Violetta inspires him: “my very breath of life, and sweet pulse of my heart”.
And interestingly, this 1853 “Traviata” and its libretto, were inspired mainly, by a semi-autobiographical, and recently published, (in 1848), highly acclaimed French novel, by Alexandre Dumas fils (1824-1895): “La Dame aux camélias”, whose complex plot, about a Parisian courtesan (the beautiful and captivating Marguerite), whose vulnerability and heroism, was probably for the most part, inspired, as mentioned above, by Dumas’ own youthful affair, with Marie Duplessis, another “courtesan” like beauty, who had numerous admirers and lovers; and like Violetta, in Verdi’s “Traviata”, fell ill, and died very young, in her early 20s.
Yet, I like to imagine that perhaps also, Traviata’s libretto, was partly inspired, by another illustrious French novelist, l’Abbé Prévost, whose 1731, controversial, and banned upon its publication, “Manon Lescaut” novel, held similar type of characters.
Although we do know, that this other Abbé Prevost novel definitely struck a chord with many 19th century musicians, and inspired, a few years later, Massenet’s 1882, “Manon”, and Puccini’s 1892, “Manon Lescaut” which include, like in “Traviata”, equally complex, and multi-dimensional, heroine personalities.
And “Traviata”, the opera, hit as well, such a strong chord with audiences around the world, that many decades later, even the Hollywood movie industry, was inspired, and believe it or not, but the great George Cukor (1899-1983), himself, in 1936, shot a wonderfully poignant movie, “Camille”, with iconic Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor.
Let’s watch the trailer, in which, you can even hear, some of Traviata’s melodies, at the very end of the excerpt.
How about that.
And believe it or not, but then, Hollywood, again, fast forward almost 50 years, with one of the biggest selling movies ever, in 1990, from Gary Marshall, paid homage to “Traviata”, as well, with “Pretty woman”, about a beautiful “escort” (Julia Roberts), a businessman falls in love with (Richard Gere); and in this movie, all ends well for everybody; and at one point, in the movie, Richard Gere even takes Julia Roberts, to the opera, to see, drum roll, yes, you have guessed it right: “La Traviata”.
How about that?
And now, let’s get back to our “Traviata” opera, to its romantic, love and honor ridden, and also particularly striking and tragic plot, served by Verdi’s incredible melodies and arias.
But before getting into the plot’s intricate details, let’s listen to the major themes, this opera evokes, right from the intro: the illness that already overpowers Violetta, the lurking death nearby, as well as, fortunately also, the strong love, Violetta will be able to feel, which will allow her, to discover her moral compass and heroic qualities.
Isn’t it already heartbreaking?
Let’s now get back to “Traviata”‘s plot details:
In Act 1, Violetta meets at one of her own elegant, and yet, slightly shallow, society “parties”, Alfredo, who has been admiring her for a while, and who declares his love for her. At first, she dismisses such a possibility, and then, starts actually, falling in love with Alfredo.
Let’s now listen to two illustrious arias, from a recent performance of famous “Traviata” excerpts, sung by Sierra, herself (performing as well, Violetta last Tuesday, at the Met Opera), in which Violetta starts first, by wondering, if it would be such a tragedy, for her to truly fall in love, despite her free spirited disposition, enjoying in life, fickle, joyful, and short “relationships”.
Wow!, wow!, wow!!!
In Act 2, Violetta lives now, happily, a peaceful, simple and quiet life, with Alfredo, in the countryside, until Alfredo’s father, visits her, at their home, and implores her, to leave Alfredo, in order to avoid “staining” his family’s reputation, as Alfredo’s sister, is about to marry, and the family can’t have a former “fallen” woman, a former courtesan, present at the wedding, or “attached” to the bride’s family, even if that “part” of her life is over.
Realizing that it is the honorable thing to do, Violetta agrees to it, and will eventually rush back to Paris, to join a former “admirer” of hers, and attend, yet another, superficial and fun, society “party”.
Let’s now listen to a short excerpt, at the MET Opera’s recent dress rehearsal, of one of the most heart breaking duets, if not the most tragic of “Traviata”‘, during which Alfredo’s father, asks Violetta to give up Alfredo:
So beautiful and so incredibly sad.
In Act 3, Alfredo, incredibly hurt by Violetta’s sudden departure, and unaware that it stems from an insistent request, from his own father, joins himself as well, Violetta, to the society “party” she is attending, and sees that Violetta is now “attached” to a former “admirer” of hers. Alfredo is besides himself with jealousy, insults her, and is then, fortunately, himself reprimanded and berated as well, by his own father (who has shown up, later as well), about his behavior towards a woman, and is challenged to a morning “duel” with Violetta’s former “admirer”, to settle the matter.
We then return to Violetta, to find her, in her bedroom. She is about to die, and is soon joined, by her doctor, by Alfredo, and finally, by Alfredo’s father. They all forgive each other, and bid goodbye beautifully to one another, while a carnival party, can be overheard close by.
So sad and so beautiful.
What to say of the production and the singers?
That Michael Mayer’s production was stunning, especially lighting wise: what incredible, huge and yet delicate, “glowing” 3D camellia, could be found on top of Violetta’s bed, what intricate and elegant choice of warm, deep, and evolving colors, for the stage “walls” of each act, and what active and charming use, at times, of curtains, to allow for various and interesting stage entrances.
And importantly, what a dazzling, and sophisticated, stylish and distinguished, public, and at times, personal, single set, throughout the opera, allowing for many of life’s seamless, animated, swirling and swaying: as perfect for parties, as it is for intimate living and conversations, as it is also, to witness the last moments of a dying heroine.
And what great usage, at times as well, of shadows, or of dead looking/”ghost like” dancers also, to bring to life as well, the dark carnival-like atmosphere, of a few additional, joyful, ethereal, and slightly vain, society “parties”, found at the end of the opera.
And finally, what beautiful and sizzling, 19th century costumes, for all partygoers, including for Violetta.
A truly arresting production, which gave “Traviata”, added warmth and color, to this beautiful, romantic, yet dark ending, love story.
As for the singers and orchestra, all conducted with a distinctive, sensitive, and at times, slowed down and elegant tempo, by Maestro Daniele Callegari, three performers, particularly stood out for me:
First and foremost, last Tuesday evening, American soprano, Nadine Sierra, in the dramatic title role, was exceptional, filled with youthful spunk, and terrific stylistic trills, and totally believable as well, as she grows her moral strength (especially in the last two acts, as she starts to behave selflessly).
And what a beautiful, loving and moving Violetta, Sierra portrays, for the very first time at the MET.
And what sparks, between her and her Alfredo, throughout the opera.
I also, particularly liked Stephen Costello, the American tenor, as the loving, and later, tormented Alfredo, what a wonderful actor, and a what a beautiful voice.
And Luca Salsi, the Italian baritone, as Germont père, the selfish, and yet loving father of Alfredo, was also, incredibly moving.
So, to sum up my feelings about Verdi’s poignant “Traviata”, seen last Tuesday evening, in great company: What an extraordinarily beautiful, tragic, romantic, and incredibly compelling opera, “Traviata” still proves to be, still, one of my favorites of the operatic canon, thanks first and foremost, to Verdi’s stunning, heartfelt and arresting music and arias, and secondly as well, thanks to the great chemistry found, and easily, joyfully, or tragically, percolating, from both Sierra and Costello, as wonderfully moving “Violetta” and “Alfredo” love birds.
And wow! wow! wow!
And not to be missed!
Until next time friends!
Eternal butterflies 😊