An Opera by Giuseppe Verdi
La Traviata is one of the cornerstones of the operatic repertory. The score is littered with fantastic tunes that are now wildly famous (even those who aren’t at all operatically versed will know many of the arias from countless TV ads), but beyond that, the coherence of the whole piece makes it a masterpiece. The taut plot and vivid characters paired with Verdi’s perfectly attuned music tend to result in few dry eyes by the end of Act III.
It is currently the most popular of Verdi’s operas and one of his most distinct. The scale is far more intimate than the vast majority of his output, with no grand historical or political elements. The opera concerns itself with social issues contemporary to Verdi, almost autobiographical in places with regard to his relationship with Giuseppina Strepponi (you can learn much more on our Verdi page).
It is also the only one of Verdi’s operas to specifically take place in his own time, “about 1850”. That was his wish, though, for the premiere the censors forced him to shift the period, from the contemporary to some hundred years earlier, out of fear that the morality on stage might somehow slip out from the proscenium and into the aisles...
The real wonder of this work is that these characters speak to our universal nature regardless of the period. The plight of Violetta makes sense irrespective of whether we see her as a 19th Century courtesan, a 21st Century prostitute or something else altogether!
The Fallen Woman
Francesco Maria Piave
Date of premiere
March 6th, 1853
Number of Acts
Two hours, fifteen minutes
A young, deeply romantic, but rather foolish man with an angry streak. Makes off with Violetta.
Violetta's maid. Loyal to the very end.
Pays Violetta to be his lover. Loses a great deal of money to Alfredo at the gambling table.
Violetta's doctor. He can't do much for her as TB was at this time incurable.
A friend of Violetta and also one of the great non-parts in opera. Frequently onstage yet never noticed.
A friend of Alfredo's who brings Alfredo to a party so he can meet Violetta.
The stoically old fashioned father of Alfredo. He comes to understand young love by the conclusion but it takes a lot of pain and suffering from all involved to get him there.
The heroine of the piece. A courtesan with a heart (think Moulin Rouge) who comes to a predictably sticky end.
Act I - Running Time: 35 mins
The curtain rises on the Salon of Violetta Valery, a high-class courtesan. She has recently been ill and is throwing a party to celebrate her recovery. She is approached by Gastone, who tells her that his friend Alfredo Germont, a young nobleman, is deeply in love with her. Alfredo came to her house every day to check up on her while she was sick (which sounds a bit creepy to us, but this is a Romantic opera, so we’ll waive our reservations).
Alfredo approaches and admits that all this is true. Baron Douphol, Violetta’s lover of the hour, is asked to give a toast but refuses. Alfredo steps up to the plate and sings ‘Libiamo ne' lieti calici’ otherwise known as the Brindisi, and the first of many highly recognisable tunes.
'Libiamo ne' lieti calici' sung by Rolando Villazon
The band strikes up in the next room, and the guests all head out to dance. Violetta is overcome by dizziness and stays, telling her guests she’ll be with them in a minute. She is left alone, but Alfredo returns out of concern and desperate to declare his love. She initially rejects him, but his obsession moves her and as he is about to leave, she gives him a flower telling him to return when it has wilted (which being the next day suggests Alfredo is far from a green thumb).
Left alone, Violetta delivers one of the grand tours de force of opera, first singing of her enchantment with Alfredo and then of the joy of living ‘always free’, ‘Sempre Libera’.
We hear Alfredo singing of love from outside as the curtain falls.
Angela Gheorghiu sings 'Sempre libera'
Act II - Running Time: 65 mins
The action leaps forward three months, and we are now at Violetta’s country house outside Paris. Our leading pair have fallen in love, and Violetta has abandoned her career as a courtesan. Alfredo sings of his happiness. However, Annina, the maid, arrives from Paris and reveals to Alfredo that she has been to Paris to sell off Violetta’s possessions so they can continue to fund their life in the country (they have no income). He is stunned and immediately leaves for Paris to acquire funds himself.
Violetta returns to find Alfredo gone. She has received a letter from Flora inviting her to a party this evening, but she doesn’t intend to go. Her happiness is quickly blunted by Giorgio Germont’s arrival and his blunt request that she break up with Alfredo. Their relationship is threatening the engagement of Alfredo’s sister (Societal hypocrisy unable to handle a courtesan in a stable relationship). Violetta is initially unable to give up her love, and Giorgio is impressed by her dignity, but he implores her desperately, and she finally agrees.
We are now at Flora’s, her party in full swing. The Marquis gossips with Flora telling her that Alfredo and Violetta have separated. The party entertainment arrives, and for no apparent reason we and the guests are treated to a Matador & Gypsy spectacle.
Violetta arrives with the Baron. Alfredo is also at the party. Excitement ensues with Alfredo and the Baron going head to head at the gambling table. Alfredo wins over and over again. Eventually, Flora announces supper, and Alfredo leaves with a small fortune in winnings. The Baron is less than pleased.
Everyone leaves, but Violetta has asked Alfredo to meet with her privately. She fears either the Baron or Alfredo will challenge the other to a duel and asks Alfredo to leave before that can happen. Maddened, he demands she tell him to his face that she now loves the Baron. She does so, and he makes a frightful scene calling all the guests back into the room.
Alfredo vilely humiliates Violetta in front of everyone culminating in him throwing his winnings at her as “payment” for her services. She faints, and the crowd loudly turns on Alfredo. Giorgio Germont arrives, denouncing his son's behaviour. The Act closes with a tremendous ensemble number in which the various characters pour out their hearts.
Act III - Running Time: 35 mins
Months have past, and we are in Violetta’s bedroom. She is on her deathbed, tuberculosis having almost wholly consumed her. Through her illness, all her friends have abandoned her, and she is now penniless. She reads a letter from Giorgio Germont. He has told Alfredo of the sacrifice she made for Alfredo’s sister. Alfredo is on his way to beg for forgiveness. In one of the most moving of arias, “Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti” - Farewell, happy dreams of the past, Violetta details her fear that Alfredo will not arrive in time…
Alfredo and Violetta are reunited. Alfredo still believes they have a future together, but it is all too late. Giorgio enters with Doctor Grenvil. They have a short, warm reunion before Violetta feels a sudden surge of energy -- collapses and dies.
La Traviata came at the end of Verdi’s most frenetic period of composition, finishing what has become known as his Galley Years. It was 1851, and Rigoletto had just premiered to enormous acclaim at La Fenice in Venice. Verdi was already working on Il Trovatore but La Fenice offered him another commission, and by May of 1852, a contract was signed for a premiere in March 1853, though Verdi did not yet even have a subject.
It is easy to find commonplace, and I can find 50 of them an hour; but it is difficult, very, very difficult, to find one that has all the qualities needed if it is to have an impact, one that is also original and provocative.
Verdi finally chose a subject but then abandoned it after beginning work and began from scratch on a new opera with Francesco Piave, his frequent librettist, based on “La Dame aux camelias” by Alexandre Dumas fils. This novel and then play had been an enormous success, but its themes were highly scandalous for the time. The alarm bells rang quickly, Varesi reportedly informing La Fenice of Verdi’s plan to put this “common whore” on the opera stage. Negative anonymous letters were sent, and to top it off, Verdi was informed that owing to the subject matter, the opera could not be done in modern dress.
Verdi feared the worse: the premiere cast were not nearly what he wanted, especially Fanny Salvini-Donatelli as Violetta, who was the opposite of the slender figure he imagined. He was so concerned he sent Piave to La Fenice to request a casting change but to no avail.
First night came and went as Verdi feared. Act I fared solidly, but it was all downhill from Act II. Varesi considered Papa Germont unworthy so he put minimal effort in while Lodovico Graziani as Alfredo wasn’t up to snuff. The audience were unkind to Salvini-Donatelli; the legend goes that one shouted, “I see no consumption, only dropsy”. The opening was a disaster though the rest of the run was actually moderately successful financially (there's an upside to a good scandal), and other opera houses would quickly take up the opera.
Verdi would make a few alterations as the opera was taken up around Europe, and he found his ideal Violetta in Maria Spezia. Slavini-Donatelli was not done with the part; however, she would repeat the role several times!
The popularity of La Traviata both then and now is difficult to understate. It quickly became one of the most popular operas immediately after its premiere, reaching Vienna by 1855; London, Paris and New York by 1856. In the 1856/57 season the Théâtre des Italiens would give 87 performances of which 54 were either La Traviata (the French Premiere), Rigoletto or Il Trovatore. Verdi had cornered the market! Not much has changed. Today it is the most performed opera in the world (by some margin).
Filthy and immoral
Even the supporters of Verdi were not immune to qualms about the content of La Traviata. Abramo Basevi, an Italian musicologist, a contemporary of Verdi and the author of the first full-length study of Verdi’s output, published in 1859, took issue writing:
Verdi was unable to resist the temptation of setting to music, and so making more attractive and acceptable, a filthy and immoral subject, universally loved because the vice it represents is universal.
Brindisi is the Italian word for a drinking song, deriving from a German phrase “bring dir's” (Offer it to you). There are a fair few examples of them in opera, Verdi also included ones in his Macbeth and Otello though the most famous is the one in La Traviata. They generally take the form of a solo singer encouraging the group to sing and the group responding by joining in with the song.
Another Brindisi, 'Inaffia l'ugola' from Verdi's Otello sung by Justino Diaz
Violetta is brought to her untimely end by consumption, which is the more glamorous name for the singularly unglamorous disease Tuberculosis (TB). Mimi in La bohème (another TB ridden 19th Century Opera) meets the same fate as have millions of others for much of human history. The 19th Century brought an exceptionally high concentration of TB deaths in part due to much higher population densities in cities: roughly 25% of deaths in Europe during the 1800s were due to TB.
Somewhat bizarrely, TB became a highly romanticized illness, known as the White Plague, and almost celebrated for its supposed purity. As well as Violetta and Mimi, Antonia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann is dying of TB and the disease features in a good deal of Romantic literature as a somehow noble, beautiful death. Byron went as far as to write, "I should like to die from consumption".
It wasn’t until Robert Koch’s work in 1882 that doctors understood TB to be contagious, and before the 1940s it remained incurable. In his La bohème adaptation Rent Jonathan Larson replaced TB with AIDs, but TB is no disease of the past. Whilst it is true to say that it has been largely eliminated in wealthy nations, it is not nearly as true as it was 30 years ago, in part due to a resurgence of TB in people who are HIV positive. According to the World Health Organization, 1.4 million people died of TB in 2011.
Marie Duplessis on whom Dumas based his novel (and therefore the real-life Violetta) was born Alphonsine Rose Plessis in Normandy, France 1824. Her journey to become one of the most infamous women in France is not an entirely happy one.
When she was in her early teens, she was effectively pimped out by her drunkard father to older men. He eventually sent her to Paris, aged 15, to work for a seamstress. As an apprentice, she earned very little and was effectively starving when she realised she could achieve far more by ‘working’ as a mistress.
Her successive lovers increased in wealth and importance, and she changed her name to Marie Duplessis (the Du adding an air of faux aristocracy). She cultivated a salon attended by the wealthiest of Paris, and made herself one of the most refined women in Paris. However, she developed tuberculosis. Despite the efforts of some of the most famous doctors in France, she died nearly penniless in 1847 at just 23. She achieved an astonishing amount, especially in the context of the gender politics of the era, but make no mistake how she did it!
- La Traviata, Overture Opera Guides
- Verdi With a Vengeance: An Energetic Guide to the Life and Complete Works of the King of Opera, William Berger
- The Complete Operas Of Verdi, Charles Osborne
Is La Traviata a good opera for beginners? ›
1) The best opera to see for a beginner: La Traviata
Probably Giuseppe Verdi's most famous opera, created in 1853, “La Traviata” is based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, “La Dame aux Camélias”, and adapted from the libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.
La traviata tells the story of the tragic love between the courtesan Violetta and the romantic Alfredo Germont. Played out against the hypocrisy of upper-class fashionable society, Alfredo and Violetta's love threatens to shame his family.What is the elements of La Traviata? ›
They deal with human drama and human emotions such as love, betrayal, conflict and often death. La traviata is a highly dramatic opera, one of love, intrigue and tragedy.What is the most famous part of La Traviata? ›
Today we're listening to “Libiamo ne'lieti calici” (popularly know as “The Drinking Song”) the famous duet with chorus from Act I of the Italian opera La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi.What is the easiest opera to understand? ›
- La bohème - Giacomo Puccini. English National Opera. ...
- Carmen - Georges Bizet. English National Opera. ...
- Tosca - Puccini. English National Opera. ...
- La Traviata - Giuseppe Verdi. English National Opera. ...
- The Magic Flute - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. English National Opera. ...
- The Ring Cycle - Richard Wagner.
There's a lot written about what operas are great for first-timers. Carmen, Don Giovanni, Tosca, The Barber of Seville, La bohème, La traviata, these are all popular picks, apparently some of our best bets at luring new audiences to the opera (and having them come back again).What does Traviata mean in Italian? ›
La traviata means “the fallen woman” or “the one who goes astray” and refers to the main character, Violetta Valéry, a courtesan.Is Pretty Woman based on La traviata? ›
It was a big influence for Pretty Woman… A rich man and a courtesan embark on a whirlwind romance before he offers her a new life away from her tumultuous past. No, we're not still talking about La traviata. This is the basic plot of Pretty Woman, another film that uses Verdi's opera as its inspiration.Why was La traviata controversial? ›
“La traviata” exposed the open wound of the society - politics, misogyny, and hypocrisy then prevalent at the heart of Europe.What makes La traviata unique? ›
La Traviata is an intimate, domestic opera that focuses exclusively on characters who look and act like those present at its premiere. In fact, Verdi went so far as to demand the opera be staged in modern dress, further blurring the lines between audiences and onstage characters.
What vocal range is La traviata? ›
In La Traviata, Flora Bervoix is sung by a mezzo-soprano. of older females or special character parts such as witches and old gypsies. The range is two octaves from F below middle C to the top line of the treble clef.What style of music is La traviata? ›
La traviata (Italian pronunciation: [la traˈvjaːta]; The Fallen Woman) is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.Is Moulin Rouge La traviata? ›
— Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge (2001) is inspired by La traviata and tells the same story: a celebrated courtesan (Satine in Moulin Rouge, Violetta in La traviata) gives in to the genuine love of a young poet/writer, but ends up selflessly sacrificing her own happiness.How long does the opera La traviata last? ›
Richard Eyre's beautiful production tells the heart-breaking story of Violetta, a courtesan who sacrifices all for love. The performance will last approximately 3 hours 20 minutes, including two intervals.What makes La traviata worth watching? ›
1) It's the most-performed opera in the world.
This timeless tale of enduring love and heart-rending tragedy, coupled with Verdi's lush, unforgettable music, has resonated with generations of opera fanatics and hopeless romantics alike since its premiere in 1853.
- Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, 1935. ...
- The Barber of Seville (Il barbiere di Siviglia) by Gioachino Rossini, 1816. ...
- La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini, 1896. ...
- La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, 1853. ...
- Die Walküre by Richard Wagner, 1870. ...
- Tosca by Giacomo Puccini, 1900.
One of the most difficult coloratura arias in the entire operatic repertoire, “Les oiseaux dans la charmille,” comes from Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffman (Les contes d'Hoffmann). The piece is also known as “The Doll Song,” since the character who performs it, Olympia, is a mechanical doll.Is opera harder than singing? ›
Opera has long been condoned as one of the most difficult styles of singing to master, often because of the large levels of volume that your body has to produce in order to sing over the orchestra since it joins theatrics and classical singing together.What is the most emotional opera? ›
Opera doesn't get much more majestic, overwhelming and emotional than La bohème, Madama Butterfly, Turandot and Tosca.What opera has the most beautiful music? ›
- Gianni Schicchi: "O mio babbino caro"Giacomo Puccini, Leone Magiera, Orchestra Dell'Ente Arena Di Verona.
- La Boheme: "Che gelida manina"Giacomo Puccini, Hanspeter Gmür, Nürnberg Symphony Orchestra.
- Rigoletto: "La Donna e mobile"Giuseppe Verdi, Hanspeter Gmür, Nürnberg Symphony Orchestra.
How early should you go to the opera? ›
It's best practice to plan on arriving 30-45 minutes before the start of the performance. You never know how traffic or weather may affect your travel, and patrons who arrive after the start of the performance won't be seated until the first appropriate break - often intermission.What is my beautiful girl in Italian? ›
Bella – bella is feminine of bello and it is used before or after singular, feminine nouns. Some examples are: Una bella ragazza – a beautiful girl. Che bella signora – what a beautiful lady.What opera is in pretty woman? ›
In Pretty Woman, Vivian — the Julia Roberts character — goes to the opera for the very first time. Even so, La Traviata moves her to tears.What is the name of the drinking song from La traviata? ›
"Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (Italian pronunciation: [liˈbjaːmo ne ˈljɛːti ˈkaːlitʃi]; "Let's drink from the joyful cups") is a famous duet with chorus from Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata (1853), one of the best-known opera melodies and a popular performance choice (as is this opera itself) for many great tenors.Is Moulin Rouge based on La Boheme? ›
Director Baz Luhrmann took inspiration from many sources when creating Moulin Rouge, (notably the Greek legend of Orpheus, and Verdi's La traviata) but the similarities to La bohème are prominent. Also set in Paris, Moulin Rouge follows the story of bohemian artists, among them a writer and a painter.Who is the fallen woman in La Traviata? ›
La traviata: Violetta
La traviata's heroine Violetta is the archetypal fallen women. A Parisian courtesan suffering with consumption, Violetta tries to leave her fast-paced life behind to be with the romantic Alfredo.
La traviataWhy do people like La traviata? ›
“La traviata is one of the most famous operas and it's because it has really emotional music and scenes of great power. It's a very attractive opera to watch and a very compelling story.”What is Violetta's illness? ›
Suffering from tuberculosis, Violetta feels death approaching. Nonetheless, she ends up accepting Alfredo's courtship. They spend a few carefree months at a country house near Paris.Is La traviata from romantic period? ›
It's a romantic tragedy by Verdi…
In the second half of the nineteenth century composer Giuseppe Verdi dominated the Italian opera scene. In 1853 he composed La traviata. As with all of Verdi's operas, La traviata deals with human emotions – love, envy, jealousy, loyalty and hatred.
What is the final act of La traviata? ›
Violetta's resistance dwindles and she finally agrees to leave Alfredo forever. Only after her death shall he learn the truth about why she returned to her old life. She accepts the invitation to the ball and writes a goodbye letter to her lover.Is La traviata a ballet? ›
La Traviata is a three-act opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi on an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. It was first performed on March 6th, 1853 at La Fenice opera house in Venice.What is the rarest female singing voice? ›
Contraltos are arguably the rarest of female voice types and they possess a tone so dark they often give the men a run for their money. If mezzos are like clarinets, contraltos are more like bass clarinets.What is the highest natural female voice in opera? ›
What is a soprano: A soprano is the highest female singing voice. Sopranos typically play the lead female character in an opera and many of the most famous female arias are sung by sopranos.What is the deepest female singing voice called? ›
Contralto: this is the lowest female voice, ranging from F3 below the central C to F5. It is exceedingly rare, and often contralto roles are given to mezzos with dark tones.What do you wear to the opera? ›
The bottom line is this: the best thing to wear to the opera is whatever makes you the most comfortable. We'll be thrilled to see you in a gown, jeans, shorts, or even in a little bit of costuming. Come as you are!What style of music is opera? ›
Opera is a key part of the Western classical music tradition. Originally understood as an entirely sung piece, in contrast to a play with songs, opera has come to include numerous genres, including some that include spoken dialogue such as Singspiel and Opéra comique.What are the girls in Moulin Rouge called? ›
The Great Ladies of the French Cancan
Under colourful and rather roguish stage names, the most famous dancers of that time competed on the stage of the Moulin Rouge, each one with her own temperament. The undisputed figurehead of the French Cancan is still today the famous Goulue, with her inimitable cheeky humour.
Back in October 1889, Paris was talking about a new music hall to be opened. The establishment was owned by Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler who picked the name Moulin Rouge (which means Red Mill) as the name for their theatre. They also gave it a nickname, “Le Premier Palais des Femmes” (The First Palace of Women).What is the best version of La Traviata? ›
- 1963 Decca Recording: Joan Sutherland, Carlo Bergonzi, Robert Merrill w/ Sir John Pritchard Conducting.
- 1979 Decca Recording: Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Matteo Manuguerra w/ Richard Bonynge Conducting.
How much are tickets to La traviata? ›
|Ticket||Description & price|
|Standard||Adults aged 17+|
LA Opera's Largest-Ever Cast: “The Ghosts of Versailles”Is La traviata good for kids? ›
La Traviata is a good first opera for kids to see. Giuseppe Verdi wrote some of the most famous operas around and La Traviata is the most performed opera in the world.How many acts are in La traviata? ›
La traviata is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. It takes as its basis the novel La dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, published in 1848.What is Violetta's sickness in La traviata? ›
La Traviata is the story of a woman whose tragic end is certain from the first few aching chords of the prelude. Violetta, the “fallen woman” of the opera's title, knows that the tuberculosis she suffers from will take her life.What age should you start learning opera? ›
What age should you start singing opera? Most Voice Teachers recommend students begin training once their voice has matured. Generally, this is in the late teens, around 17-18 years of age.What age should you start singing opera? ›
Because classical vocal training takes time to develop, and there's no rushing the process. Don't expect much from your child until mid-to-late high school. After boys hit puberty, their voices change, so there's no real need to start voice lessons any earlier. For girls, it's also around that time.Is it hard to learn to sing opera? ›
Opera has long been condoned as one of the most difficult styles of singing to master, often because of the large levels of volume that your body has to produce in order to sing over the orchestra since it joins theatrics and classical singing together.Why is it called Traviata? ›
La traviata means “the fallen woman” or “the one who goes astray” and refers to the main character, Violetta Valéry, a courtesan. The opera features some of the most challenging and revered music in the entire soprano repertoire; the aria “Sempre libera” at the end of Act I is especially well known.How long does La traviata take? ›
Richard Eyre's beautiful production tells the heart-breaking story of Violetta, a courtesan who sacrifices all for love. The performance will last approximately 3 hours 20 minutes, including two intervals.
Is 40 too old to become an opera singer? ›
“It's never too late to start singing opera, it just takes a long time to break into the opera world,” said Gunther in a telephone interview. While starting an operatic career past 50 years old might be unusual, the scenario wouldn't rule out a substantial professional career of some length, according to Greenawald.Can anyone sing like an opera singer? ›
Anyone who has a passion for singing and dedication to practice can learn to sing opera. However, working as a professional opera singer is a different matter. It requires a creative personality who is willing to dedicate their life to music, have a six day working week and be able to sing on a heavy work load.How many hours a day do opera singers practice? ›
In the final weeks leading up to opening night, opera singers may spend as many as six hours each day in rehearsals, with soloists often receiving additional one-on-one instruction from a vocal coach or répétiteur.Can opera singers have tattoos? ›
“Often you can't see the tattoos because they're placed in a discrete spot. But in the modern age of opera, they like to send handsome men out shirtless. If they have chest tattoos then we do have to cover them up, depending on the period and the production.”What makes a good opera singer? ›
The ability to make a beautiful, even sound in the full range of our voices (usually two octaves, sometimes more). This means your high notes do not sound shrill or thin, the middle range is free and open and the bottom is not breathy.How much do opera singers get paid? ›
Opera performances at well-known theatres are also something that fancy people with larger budgets tend to attend, so of course, the stars of the show will receive a nice payment for their services. According to salary-checking sites like Comparably and Chron, opera singers can make an average of $60,000 per year.Can you learn to sing opera at any age? ›
You really can get into opera at any stage of your life. The thing to consider is the difference between singing opera for your own enjoyment, or taking up an incredibly difficult and competitive career.Do opera singers use head voice or chest voice? ›
In the operatic singing tradition, men sing primarily in chest voice while women sing primarily in their head voice. However, in rock singing, men often emit high screams using their head voice while female rock singers use almost exclusively their chest voice for high notes.