Opera Scotland

Traviata La Traviata; The Fallen Woman

Music
Giuseppe Verdi (born Busseto, 10 October 1813; died Milan, 27 January 1901)

Text
Francesco Maria Piave.

Source
Play La dame aux camélias (1852) by Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824-95).

Premières
First performance: Venice (Teatro la Fenice), 12 March 1853.
First UK performance: London (Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket), 24 May 1856.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 20 February 1857.
Scottish Opera première: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 12 December 1970.

Background
This opera met with mixed success at its premiere in Venice, but the following year, at a different Venetian theatre, and after minor changes, it gained a degree of success that has not deserted it since. It remains one of the most popular operas in the entire Italian repertoire. The subject matter was considered controversial at the time, and initially the contemporary setting was abandoned in favour of one in the early 18th century. However it took only a few years for the original scenario to be accepted everywhere.

Characters
Violetta Valéry, a courtesan (soprano)
Baron Douphol (baritone)
Doctor Grenvil (bass)
Flora Bervoix, Violetta’s friend (soprano)
Marquis d’Obigny (baritone)
Gaston, Vicomte de Letorières (tenor)
Alfredo Germont (tenor)
Annina, Violetta’s maid (mezzo-soprano)
Giuseppe, Violetta’s servant (tenor)
Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father (baritone)

Plot Summary
The opera, set in mid-19th century Paris, opens at a party in Violetta’s house. Gaston introduces her to a new arrival in Paris from Provence, Alfredo, who is immediately attracted to her. She is aware that her health is fragile, and she chooses to grab a last chance at happiness by escaping from Paris with him and living in the country. A few months later, by which time her money is running out, she receives an unexpected visitor. This is Alfredo’s father, who has come to town to disentangle his son from such an unsuitable affair. Violetta reluctantly agrees to leave Alfredo, so that his sister may make a suitable marriage that is currently under threat. The method she chooses is to accept an invitation from Flora to another party that evening. She returns to her old protector, Baron Douphol. Alfredo goes to the party, determined to denounce what he sees as Violetta’s unfaithfulness. As he does this, he is interrupted by his father, who also turns up at the party, but does not explain the true circumstances of the change. The final act occurs several months later. Violetta’s health has collapsed and all her money has gone. Alfredo, advised by his father of the reasons for Violetta’s conduct, returns to Paris just in time to witness her death from consumption. His father expresses his regret at having undervalued the woman so seriously.

RECORDINGS

DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1994

Conductor: Georg Solti
Orchestra of Royal Opera House
Angela Gheorghiu (Violetta), Frank Lopardo (Alfredo), Leo Nucci (Germont).

This live recording was rushed out to follow the new production by Richard Eyre, directing opera for the first time. Angela Gheorghiu gives a wonderfully detailed and varied performance as Violetta and the men back her up well. Solti was apparently conducting Traviata for the first time in his life, and he does not drive Verdi’s music as hard as he sometimes had previously. The small roles feature reliable artists such as Leah-Marian Jones, Gillian Knight, Robin Leggate and Richard Van Allan.

DG (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1977

Conductor: Carlos Kleiber
Bavarian State Opera Orchestra
Ileana Cotrubas (Violetta), Plácido Domingo (Alfredo), Sherrill Milnes (Germont).

Cotrubas was one of the best Violettas of her generation. She was a wonderfully subtle actor, and sings with great delicacy when required. Domingo sings with astonishing lightness of touch, given that he was already singing Otello regularly by this time. The overwhelming reason for this set's greatness is the contribution of Carlos Kleiber. The first party scene starts at an absolutely feverish pace, reflecting Violetta’s condition, and the tension does not relax. The cuts which some theatres still employed as a matter of course are even more annoying in this context.

CHANDOS (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1981

Conductor: Charles Mackerras Orchestra of English National Opera Valerie Masterson (Violetta), John Brecknock (Alfredo), Christian du Plessis (baritone).

John Copley’s production of Traviata initially featured the magnetic Violetta of Josephine Barstow. She was not the only great Violetta in the ENO company at the time, and Valerie Masterson’s voice sounds beautiful, and her English diction, after several years at the outset of her career singing Gilbert and Sullivan, is clear. John Brecknock and Christian du Plessis are also excellent. Sound company regulars such as Della Jones, Shelagh Squires, John Gibbs and Roderick Earle take minor roles. Charles Mackerras is a wonderfully vivid conductor of Verdi. Again there are some cuts to the text.

MYTO (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1958

Conductor: Nicola Rescigno
Orchestra of Royal Opera House
Maria Callas (Violetta), Cesare Valletti (Alfredo), Mario Zanasi (Germont).

Several live performances by Callas have been issued, and they all have good points as well as serious disadvantages, particularly of recording quality and theatrical cuts. Valletti is a charming Alfredo.

The Cast

Alfredo Germont
 
Annina
 Violetta's maid
Baron Douphol
 
Commissar
 
Dancer
 
Doctor Grenvil
 
Flora Bervoix
 Violetta's friend
Gaston
 Vicomte de Letorières
Giorgio Germont
 Alfredo's father
Gipsy
 
Giuseppe
 Violetta's servant
Marquis d' Obigny
 
Messenger
 
Servant
 
Violetta Valéry
 a courtesan

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