La Traviata: the opera meaning & what it is about

Marie Duplessis, Countess of Pérregaux, also known as Madame Alphonsine Rose Plessis, was twenty-three years old when she passed away from tuberculosis in 1847. Despite the title she obtained by marriage in 1846, she is not a member of the aristocracy; rather, she has lived in terrible poverty since she was a child and has a violent and abusive father. She then makes every effort to survive by working odd jobs. When Marie, at sixteen, decides to move to Paris to pursue her fortune, she falls in love with a merchant and starts to become known in the French capital’s high society, which quickly propels her to the heart of the era’s social life.Her testimonies describe Marie as a really endearing young lady who is immaculately educated, self-taught, and interested in music. This young prostitute, who lived her “day like roses” for roughly six years, was the forerunner of the Marinella Fabrizio De André sings about more than a century later. She left an indelible effect on the culture of her era that has come down to us.

Madame Duplessis has a number of lovers, but the most reliable of them is still Alexandre Dumas fils, who she spends eleven months in the nearby Parisian town of Saint-Germaine-en-Laye with. The author dedicates La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady of the Camellias), one of the most exquisite works of French literature, to this young woman with black hair, a very fair complexion, and long eyes.

Giuseppe Verdi, who was fascinated by the drama he saw in France in 1852, chooses to adapt it into an opera with the help of librettist Francesco Maria Piave, who is told of the decision in a letter in which the Maestro requests that he start to work:

“[…] so that this subject is as original and captivating as possible for an audience that is always striving to seek a boundary to its own morality in unusual topics

La Traviata, together with Trovatore and Rigoletto, is one of the so-called “popular trilogy” that has three non-noble individuals as its protagonists. It was written in roughly forty days. Verdi is forced to change the setting from the 19th to the 18th century, praying earnestly that the singers won’t be required to wear the typical wigs of the eighteenth century in order to prevent the melodrama from becoming overly plastered. This is done to avoid the censorship’s control and to avoid making his criticism of the vices of his contemporary bourgeois world too obvious.

The curtain goes up for the world premiere of Verdi’s new opera on March 6, 1853, just two months after Trovatore had its debut in Rome. The portrayal is, in the words of the composer himself, “a fiasco” (a flop), most likely because the performers don’t have the necessary talents and aren’t even physically or aesthetically appropriate. Verdi, however, is not surprised nor sorry about it because he had already voiced his concerns to the theater managers and had even gone so far as to forbid any further performances if they would not at least replace the lead singers. Additionally, he writes the following to publisher Ricordi:

“[…] we don’t investigate the causes, that’s the story. My fault or the singers? […] Time will judge”

and to a friend from Genoa:

“[…] I believe that the last word on Traviata is not that of last night, they will see it again and we will see!”

Giuseppe Verdi, who is foresighted like all great geniuses but more likely confident in his own abilities and the legitimacy of the work, goes back to work on it so that on May 15, 1854, at the San Benedetto theater in Venice, the new version—the final one—can be performed. From this point forward, Traviata’s destiny is filled with triumphs that have helped it become, with 629 performances, the play with the greatest worldwide representation over the previous four seasons.

The notion of time is yet another essential component of Verdi’s compositions. The main character is aware that she doesn’t have much time left to live and that her disease is depleting her quickly. This can be heard musically in the use of the waltz, which at the time was thought to be immoral because couples danced “closed” and is therefore also descriptive of the main character. The waltz is played in three octaves and represents spirals and vortices, which Violetta is trapped in, and which frequently decrease by triplets to become faster and faster. The most well-known waltz composed by Verdi is Libiamo ne’ felici calici, which is to be performed strictly on stage without any choreography. Its interval of a sixth is the musical equivalent of the motion produced by lifting the arms.

It is a representative work by the Parma master who, like Dumas, gives respect to the tragic tale of a young woman that fate wishes to tell the world after her death.

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