Opera Abbreviated: Verdi's 'La Traviata'

Dec 10, 2018

The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata will be screened live in cinemas worldwide at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15. Staged by Michael Mayer, the show features sets by Christine Jones and costumes by Susan Hilferty. 

Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducts. Diana Damrau sings Violetta, with Juan Diego Florez as Alfredo and Quinn Kelsey as the elder Germont.

Here’s my take on this magnificent score:

La Traviata ("The Lost Woman") was Verdi’s 19th opera. It is the third in the trio of Verdi hits written between 1851 and 1853, along with Rigoletto and Il Trovatore.

As usual, the composer had to get the plot of his new opera past the censors. God forbid the public see an opera about a whore, who is redeemed by her own selflessness. At least she has the good sense to die at the end. Verdi was forced to change the setting to the Paris of 1700. The first production was played in powdered wigs.

Violetta Valery is protected by wealthy men in the Paris of 1847. Verdi was setting a contemporary story. La Traviata is based on a novel, later a play by Alexandre Dumas, The Lady of the Camellias. The play came to be called Camille.

Marie Duplessis
Credit Painted by Edouard Vienot / Wikimedia Commons

Young Dumas was writing about a woman he had known, Marie-Alphonsine Duplessis (1824-1847). She had been a demimondaine, popular in Parisian society, the property of wealthy men. The truth is not pretty.

Call her The Lady of the Camellias, Camille or La Traviata. Call her Marguerite Gautier or Marie Alphonise-Duplessis. The spoken theater embraced Bernhardt, Duse, Mojeska and Lillian Gish. Theda Bara played Camille in a 1917 silent film. Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor starred in MGM’s 1936 version.

Violetta has been beloved by Callas, Caballe, Sutherland, Moffo and Sills – few greats among many who have been embraced a lost woman with a big heart and a better soul.