Hockin’ jewellery, songs about drinking and a stoush with the missus’ new/old bae. Verdi’s La Traviata is not a block of flats in Western Sydney, but a towering ode to doomed love.
Here at Tenor Translator HQ, we love a good tragedy, and La Traviata is one of the monumental, operatic ones. It’s full of love, longing and of course, consumption. Composer Giuseppe Verdi, inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s 1848 novel La Dame aux Camélias, created his opera using gorgeous lyrical melodies, inspired instrumentations and a real sense of dramatic build-up. It premiered in 1853, and remains one of the top five most performed operas to this day.
The opera begins with a party. Famed courtesan Violetta Valéry has a few friends over and is introduced to Alfredo, who is already madly in love with her. Very early in the piece, she coughs, and if you’ve read other instalments of Tenor Translator, you’ll know this means she has consumption, a fatal disease.
Our chosen aria is from this opening party scene – the drinking song: Libiamo ne’ lieti calici. I guarantee everybody has heard this aria – even people who aren’t opera lovers. The aria is a “brindisi”, a lively song used to make toasts. In this case, Alfredo, a dyed-in-the-wool romantic, toasts love, and kisses made sweeter by wine. Violetta is more worldly (well, obviously) and she sings that love might be brief, so pleasure should be paramount. It’s a rousing melody, setting the scene in Gay Paree.
Listen to Venera Gimadieva as Violetta and Michael Fabiano as Alfredo:
Anyway, things move along pell-mell and soon Violetta and Alfredo are living together in the countryside, away from Paris. They’re going along quite happily until Alfredo realises that Violetta has been selling off her jewellery to pay the upkeep on their country home, so off he goes to Paris to ask his father for financial assistance. Makes you wonder about the concept of the kept woman when she’s actually the one paying all the bills.
While he’s away, his father Germont arrives and tells Violetta she must leave Alfredo because the family’s reputation has taken a dive, what with Alfredo living with a fallen woman. She reluctantly agrees because she truly loves Alfredo and wants the best for him. She writes him a Dear John letter saying she’s heading back to live with a former lover.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Tenor translator: Verdi’s Rigoletto
- Tenor translator: Puccini’s La Bohème
- Tenor translator: Delibes’ Flower Duet
Alfredo’s peeved beyond belief and at another party thrown a little while later, he wins a pile of dough at the gambling table. When Violetta arrives on the arm of her new lover, Alfredo makes a scene, throwing his winnings in her face and screaming that it’s money for services rendered. Mortifying for Violetta. Can you imagine?
Some months later, Violetta reads a letter from Germont saying that Alfredo is seeking her forgiveness for his behaviour (he’d also injured that other lover in a duel). Germont himself is also sorry for having been an interfering so-and-so. Pah! Too little too late, I say.
Anyway, Violetta has been wasting away from tuberculosis and knows she’s not long for the world, so she agrees to see Alfredo. They sing of their love and of a happy future, but her time is up. She dies in his arms. The end.