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Theatre / La Traviata

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Maria Callas as Violetta Valéry

La traviata is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. It is based on La dame aux Camélias (1852), a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The title "La traviata" means literally The Fallen Woman, or perhaps more figuratively, The Woman Who Goes Astray. It was originally titled Violetta, after the main character." -The Other Wiki. It is a pretty clear inspiration for Moulin Rouge!.

Violetta Valéry, the famed Parisian courtesan, appears to have everything in life, free to pursue anything and anyone that strikes her fancy. But when the young Alfredo Germont falls in love with her, she is faced with the emptiness off her own life and wonders whether parties, pleasure and empty friendships are worth more than the true love offered to her by the kind and caring Alfredo. Some months later, the pair is living together happily, until Alfredo's father arrives to ask her to break off the relationship, as his daughter's fiancé simply cannot marry a woman whose brother lives with a former courtesan. Unable to resist the pleas of a loving father, the truly good-hearted Violetta agrees and flees back to her now-hated former life. Alfredo, unbelievably hurt by her betrayal of her promises and his love, rushes after her. He finds her at a party and proceeds to humiliate her in front of society by throwing money as 'payment' for their time together her way. He has no idea that Violetta is terminally ill with consumption. Alfredo's father later reveals to his son the noble reasons for which Violetta left him. He hurries back to her, and announces his plan to bring her with him back to their happy life in the country, but it is too late. Violetta cannot even get out of her bed anymore. Comforted only by the fact that she is with Alfredo in her last moments, she succumbs to her illness.

It first premiered at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice on March 6th, 1853, where Verdi was forced to relocate the contemporary setting back to the 18th century by the censors, and it wasn't until the 1880's when the original 1850's setting began being used. It has since become one of the most popular operas, and has seen frequent performances around the world.

In 1983, Franco Zeffirelli directed a film version of the opera, which starred Canadian soprano Teresa Stratas as Violetta, Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo as Alfredo, and American baritone Cornell MacNeil as Giorgio.

Tropes for this opera include:

  • Adaptation Name Change: In Dumas fils' novel, the leading characters are named Marguerite Gauthier and Armand Duval. In Verdi's opera, their names are Violetta Valéry and Alfredo Germont.
  • Alliterative Name: Violetta Valéry and Giorgio Germont.
  • Beta Couple: Flora and the Marquis. They're a courtesan-and-patron couple like Violetta and the Baron (at the start) and Flora and Violetta are good friends. In Act II, the fortunetellers "divine" that the Marquis has been fooling around with others, but after a brief public scolding, Flora forgives him and they agree to start over. This easy forgiveness and affection is in stark contrast to Alfredo's way of doing things.
  • Blood Splattered Dressing Gown and Blood from the Mouth: Today's Violettas often play the last scene very, very, very realistically. Even Maria Callas didn't do this.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: At the request of Alfredo's dad.
  • Costume Porn: Due to the opera's setting in Paris, Violetta almost always gets at least one fancy gown: really, fancy.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: A beautiful rendition, played for drama, in the ending.
  • Downer Ending: Alfredo manages to track Violetta down, but when he arrives at her side, she's in the last stage of her tuberculosis. This is actually an improvement on the original novel, in which Marguerite (Violetta's original name) died completely alone and forsaken.
    • Franco Zeffirelli's film, however, makes the final reunion scene a hallucination of Violetta's, ending with her dying all alone.
  • Elite Man–Courtesan Romance: Between Alfredo and Violetta. This is considered scandalous enough that Alfredo's sister is not unable to marry the man she loves while their relationship continues.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Germont is a jerk, blaming Violetta for the shame brought on Alfredo's family and forcing them to break up. But when Alfredo publicly humiliates Violetta in retaliation, even Germont is disgusted, saying that Violetta deserved better than that.
  • Faint in Shock: Violetta, when Alfredo publicly insults her. (More understandable, since she's sick with tuberculosis).
  • Femme Fatale: Violetta fits this trope perfectly, although she's a Delicate and Sickly version of it.
  • The Ghost: Giorgio Germont's daughter and Alfredo's younger sister. Apparently a sweet and virtuous girl set to be married, and it is for the sake of her marriage that Germont breaks up Alfredo and Violetta, to spare the family scandal. She never appears or is even named.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Germont doesn't have very far to turn, admittedly — he's a concerned father who breaks up Violetta and Alfredo for the good of his family, and genuinely respects Violetta. But in Act III he really and truly turns and embraces Violetta as his own daughter.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Violetta. Though she is very attached to her freewheeling, wealthy life, she is reborn and selfless in her love for Alfredo.
  • I Have No Son!: Giorgio's reaction to Alfredo terribly disrespecting Violetta at the end of Act II.
    Giorgio: Where is my son? I do not see him here before me...
  • I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Before her death, Violetta tells Alfredo that a girl in her youth will fall for him, and that he should marry said girl.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Violetta has consumption (tuberculosis), although in classic opera fashion this does not prevent her from singing lengthy and complex arias. And her health noticeably improves in Act II, when Alfredo takes her away from the pollution of Paris and to a healthier, more temperate lifestyle.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: The closing aria of Act II brings the entire ensemble and all of the principals to unite in a truly epic What the Hell, Hero? critique of Alfredo. Act III's Finale also is a powerful musical union of the voices of the Doctor, Annina, Giorgio, Alfredo, and Violetta.
  • Moment of Weakness: Torn apart by his rage at Violetta's betrayal and his jealousy of the Baron, Alfredo chucks his gambling winnings at the stricken Violetta as payment for her "services". He regrets it almost immediately.
  • Mood Whiplash: Invoked at the beginning of Act III, with Violetta dying in the bedroom interrupted by a chorus from the joyous Carnival coming from outside.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Frequently expressed by Alfredo late in Act II and Act III, when he realizes how profoundly he's wronged the woman who loves him. Giorgio gets in on this towards the end as well, realizing he's losing the daughter in law he could have had.
  • Ode to Intoxication: The duet and chorus aria "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" ("Let's drink from the joyful cups"), finishing off with everyone singing
    "Let's enjoy the wine and the singing,
    the beautiful night, and the laughter.
    Let the new day find us in this paradise."
  • Scenery Porn: It's Paris at the beginning of the 19th century, so the Parisian sets will often be very lavish and gorgeous.
  • Setting Update: The opera has seen several updates in many productions. Some examples:
    • Francesca Zambello's production moves the setting to the Belle Époque in Paris.
    • Some productions update the setting to 1920's Paris as well.
    • Inverted in 19th-century productions, when the setting was changed to Paris during the reign of King Louis XIV, because operagoers at the time were not used to seeing the characters dressed almost exactly like themselves.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Alfredo and Violetta.
  • Stepford Smiler: A possible way to play Violetta in Act I. She appears to fully love her lavish lifestyle, but admits that it's all a distraction from her consumption.
  • Time Skip: If you left for a bathroom break at the end of Act I you would come back in at Act II thinking you must have fallen asleep in the bathroom and missed something. The end of Act I sees Violetta emphatically claiming she will continue her life of pleasure. But in Act II, she clearly changed her mind, as it's months later and they have been living together for some time. There is another less dramatic time jump from Act II to III to get to the last moments of Violetta's illness.
  • Untranslated Title: Like so many Verdi operas. As mentioned above, it translates literally to "The Lost Lady" or "The Fallen Woman".
  • Victorian Novel Disease: The illness, since the opera was adapted from the Dumas novel The Lady of the Camellias.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Everyone at Flora's party reprimands Alfredo for upsetting Violetta by forcing a confession out of her for loving the baron and throwing his [Alfredo's] money at her. The fact that poor Violetta passes out right there due to her illness doesn't help.