In the year 1853 Verdi had seen Alexander Dumas’ “La dame aux carmélias”. It was interesting especially because of the society reasons. It was a story about the writer’s love to a famous Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis. He was so encharmed with her that he forgot about his strict rules and squandered his money. His financial status forced him to leave her. But after her death (she died of tuberculosis in the age of 23), his feeling flared up again. He dedicated one of his best romances to her – at first as a novel and later as a theatrical performance.
Verdi was very brave to choose this romance for his new libretto. In sinful Paris the story had a taste of scandal, in religious Italy it was a scandal. The first performance was a failure. The audience couldn’t accept that the main character is an immoral courtesan and what’s more she is a likable person, the only positive in the play. It didn’t like that the opera took place in the present (they wanted orientalism and history) and that the heroine dies in a banal way – from tuberculosis, in her own bed. Those people didn’t see that it was a monument for one of the most important parts of life in Italy – the family. The courtesan Violetta lives together with Alfredo because she wants to have a family after the years of loneliness. She agrees to leave him only after she has been convinced by his father that it is for his own good. She sacrifices her love to rescue the family of her beloved. She knows that the family is the most important; she is understood better by Alfredo’s father than the boy himself. Their duet in which Violetta asks for holding her tight just as a father holds his daughter is the central part of the opera.
After the failure Verdi changed his work a little bit. He placed it at the beginning of XIXth century and he changed the title: from the irritating "La Traviata" ("The Fallen Woman") to a neutral "Violetta". This time, in Venece, it was a success (and only a year later!).
Today this opera is a quintessence of opera’s style. For example, the synopsis: a story of young people, who cannot be together because of the social conventions and the family of a boy. However it is encharming because of Verdi’s music: subtle, sometimes passionate. There are many popular parts in this opera, especially including a duet "Libiamo"!
Synopsis. Paris, the second half of XIXth century. A beautiful courtesan Violetta abandons her happy but empty life and binds with s young nobleman Alfred Germont. His father demands that Violetta leaves, because this relationship disgraces the Germont family. Violetta agrees for Alfredo’s sake, however he doesn’t know the reason and offends her in public. Abandoned by everybody, poor and ill, Violetta is dying all alone. In her last moments the Germonts arrive – Alfred found out about everything and begs her to forgive him. Violetta dies.
Anna Netrebko & Rolando Villazón in Verdi's La Traviata at the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Carlo Rizzi and directed by Willy Decker.