La Traviata – An Opera in Three Acts by Verdi

Fathom events, March – On Saturday, March 11, 2017, the Metropolitan Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s much-loved La Traviata through the popular “The Met: Live in HD” series, screened simultaneously in hundreds of movies theatres to thousands of opera lovers throughout the world.

Verdi’s masterpiece received it’s world premiere in Venice at the Teatro la Fenice in 1853. It managed to survive a notoriously poor opening night reception, but went on to become one of the best-loved operas in the repertoire. It is probably one of the most performed works in the history of opera.

The La Traviata was a unique and challenging opera for its day (mid-nineteenth century Italy) since
“The Fallen Woman” of the title, Violetta, was an unmanageable courtesan who defies the rules of the day to fall in love with and live with Alfredo, the embodiment of “respectable” society. This theme ran counter to the prevailing unspoken rule that only those of nobility were to be dramatized as victims of a tragic love affair and the opera’s initial impact on the audience was accordingly negative. However, with some reworking, it was accepted and praised by audiences soon after its premiere and such themes were to become popular right up to Julia Roberts’ portrayal of la traviata in Pretty Woman.

In this sparsely staged, stark white production, the dominant set piece was a giant clock, ominously indicating the theme of change and impermanence throughout the three acts. Time is running out. The essentially bare stage allowed us to focus our attention on the two principle singers, soprano Sonya Yoncheva as courtesan Violetta Valéry in the title role and tenor Michael Fabiano as her obsessed lover, Alfredo Germont. The chorus was made up of perhaps 30 or more taunting men who are inventively choreographed so that they are either silent or vocal witnesses to the unfolding tragedy of Violetta and Alfredo’s love. Violetta’s lipstick-red cocktail dress symbolically stood in stark contrast to the black and white tuxedos worn by the chorus, her ever-present marginally hostile party guests and “clients.” At the height of her popularity, she cavorts atop a lipstick-colored sofa borne aloft by her “admirers.” Later, when rejected and shunned by all, she collapses in the middle of an empty stage as those dearest to her turn away from her in revulsion.

This magnificent Met production staged by Willy Decker has been hailed by the critics as one of the finest Traviatas in decades. Prior to this staging coming to the Met, it was a sensation at the 2005 Salzburg Festival and it is agreed by the critics that this current Met offering surpasses its Salzburg predecessor. It is truly “Croce e delis al cor!” Torment and delight of the heart! In the grandest Italian operatic tradition.

by Lidia Paulinska and Hugh McMahon

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