“La Traviata” is Verdi’s biographic opera.
Verdi was living with a very famous opera singer, Giuseppina Strepponi, “in sin” for a number of years. In those days, singers were considered more or less a prostitute and she was pregnant five times previously. They lived in Paris and then moved to countryside just like Violetta and Alfredo.
Violetta was modeled after a real person, Marie Duplessis, who was a mistress of Alexandre Dumas, a novelist. He wrote a story “Lady of the Camellia”, based on their own love life. Marie was an icon courtesan. People in the social crowd in Paris looked up as she was the most sophisticated, elegant, beautiful, fashionable woman on earth and also looked down as she was at last a prostitute. Duma did not marry Marie…
You got a picture of Violatta’s social status as “demi monde”(a class of women considered to be of doubtful social standing and morality in 19th century Paris) ?
Verdi and Strepponi saw its play and Verdi composed the opera immediately. Verdi performed this opera in Paris and it created a big scandal. It was too realistic and made the “demi monde” public. It showed “hypocrisy” of the society up to people’s faces. Too revealing and confronting.
Here is our opera director, Nic Muni’s note about “La Traviata”. You would see why “La Traviata” is still relevant and matter to us NOW.
La Traviata is a story about social and religious hypocrisy.
Wealthy men were permitted mistresses, they were permitted to attend all-night parties of the demi-monde, which were in essence, orgies. Orgies of the senses, of libido and of gastronomy. That these same men simultaneously insisted on virginal behavior by the women in their familial circles created a dilemma for women: if you were independent, sexually and otherwise, you were outcast from respectable and respected society.
In order to depict this dilemma, it is critical that Violetta, as elegant as she is, is portrayed for what she actually is: a prostitute who trades physical intimacy for financial gain. She is beautiful, intelligent, well-mannered, elegant and gracious. She gives pleasure to men, not only sexually but emotionally and psychologically—and she is so expert at these acts of love that men are addicted to her company.
So, it is understandable to deplore her lifestyle, even to be offended by it. But then she truly falls in love and gives up her lucrative and licentious lifestyle, completely and permanently. Can a person be forgiven for their mistakes, however heinous? Can a woman be forgiven?
That is the critical question of the piece. And I’m afraid that Verdi’s answer—not his own, but that of society’s as he saw it--is a resounding “no”.
Allow yourself to be offended by the behavior of some of the characters. Allow yourself to feel sympathy with Violetta’s plight, to struggle with Germont’s request, to pity Alfredo’s rage. By stripping away the veneer of traditional opera production, by presenting it in a very intimate setting, by shortening and focusing the operas themselves, it is our fondest hope that you will become involved in whatever way the evening moves you. The important thing is to allow yourself to be affected.