La traviata is one of the world's most popular operas. Its arias are instantly recognisable and have become staples for opera houses across the globe. Yet at its London premiere in 1856, La traviata was denounced for bringing 'the poetry of the brothel' to the stage and unleashing uncomfortable truths on Victorian society. Amanda Vickery and Tom Service reveal the extraordinary story behind the opera's first night in London and its scandalous heroine, the courtesan Violetta Valéry, whose dramatic life and tragic death were based on real-life characters and events.
La Traviata, Giuseppe Verdi very personal opera, was premiered in 1853 at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. The first night was a fiasco, but after a few revisions the opera set out to conquer the world. La Traviata offers no scope for grandiose crowd scenes or historical pomp. In keeping with the intimate nature of the action, Verdi’s music reflects the inner feelings of the protagonists. The heroine, whose emotional state is determined by external circumstances, is in the centre of the story of emotional upheavals. Jürgen Flimm haunting staging stays close to Verdi’s intent. He focuses on the protagonists, showing their shakiness, emotions, despair, love, sacrifice and tragedy rather than concentrating on the abysses of the Parisian demi-monde. Eva Mei and Piotr Beczala are a perfectly matched couple. Her soft and flexible soprano and his lyrical tenor, marked by excellent diction, work very well together, joined by the “golden” voice of outstanding Thomas Hampson.
Diana Damrau’s primacy as an interpreter of Violetta Valéry in La traviata can be inferred from the names of theatres where she has performed Verdi’s most popular opera: the Metropolitan, New York; La Scala, Milan; London’s Royal Opera House; the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Zurich Opera. Paris’s Opéra Bastille joined that list of leading houses in June 2014, when the German soprano appeared in a new production by the film director Benoît Jacquot.
Diana Damrau’s primacy as an interpreter of Violetta Valéry in La traviata can be inferred from the names of theatres where she has performed Verdi’s most popular opera: the Metropolitan, New York; La Scala, Milan; London’s Royal Opera House; the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Zurich Opera. Paris’s Opéra Bastille joined that list of leading houses in June 2014, when the German soprano appeared in a new production by the film director Benoît Jacquot. Conducted by Francesco Ivan Ciampa, it is presented on this DVD release from Warner Classics, which joins a DVD of Verdi’s Rigoletto, with Damrau as Gilda, recorded in Dresden and released in 2010, and the recent CD release of the soprano’s spine-tingling interpretation of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, recorded live in Munich.
“The first of Scotto's two studio recordings of Traviata finds her in fresher voice than her later attempt under Muti, though her colleagues here are less distinguished.”
Verdi, child of the people, king of popular opera, began life as the son of an innkeeper. He was brought up in modest circumstances. He first received lessons from the village priest, who was amazed by the young musician’s talents. Verdi’s musical education was rounded and complete: at the age of sixteen, the composer wrote fugues, masses and symphonies, which he would later destroy. As he met with reticence in Milan, he settled in Busseto where he fell victim to the pettiness of the town. However, his strong willpower enabled him to pursue his musical path without paying heed to what people said…
"This is the story of a dying woman. It is written as such. This is what it tells. During the performance, this woman dies before your eyes, in what is practically a live event. There is no way to conjure the fact away. The main subject of this opera is death and there is no way to avoid that. Death with love. Love with death. One and the other, one in the other." (Peter Mussbach)