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Runs until 4 June 2017

La Traviata

A power game of honour and love.

Opera in 3 acts by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on Alexandre Dumas the Younger’s play La Dame aux camélias.

Performed in Italian with Swedish surtitles.

”It is Italian passion, agony and an exquisite death”Göteborgs-Posten, 2007

The passionate arias and the wide musical and dramatic spectra make La Traviata one of Verdi’s most popular works. David Radok’s elegant and timeless production premiered at the Göteborg Opera in 2007 and has since become a recurring classic at The Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen.

For this revival the tragic lovers Violetta and Alfredo are interpreted by a superb duo: the coloratura soprano Kerstin Avemo and the tenor Bülent Bezdüz, both of whom have a huge following among Gothenburg audiences. With virtuoso conductor Giancarlo Andretta at the podium, this promises to be a production that will break your heart.

Intermission refreshments

The café opens 75 minutes before the performance begins so you can pre-book your intermission refreshments.

Pre-booked refreshments will be served during the second intermission, but service at the café is open for orders over the counter during both the 1st and 2nd intermissions.

A masterpiece which had its setbacks

The origins of La Traviata can be traced back to the première of Alexandre Dumas, fils' La Dame aux camélias (The Lady of the Camellias) in February 1852, where a certain Giuseppe Verdi was in attendance with his partner Giuseppina Strepponi. The play was Dumas' dramatisation of his own novel, a semi-autobiographical account of his romance with the most talked about demi-monde in high society at that time, Marie Duplessis. What was it that Verdi and his life companion saw in the performance on stage? In all likelihood, Verdi recognised from the very start the seeds of a libretto in La Dame aux camélias, even if he initially kept it to himself. And he had reason to do so - he must have realised that the subject matter was original, modern, emotive and bold. It was completely distinctive from the narratives of his previous operas: no superficially thrilling historical narrative filled with intrigue and wicked intent. Instead, this was an introspective story, anchored in the emotions and feelings of normal, flesh and blood people. 

Giuseppe Verdi ca. 1870
Ferdinand Mulnier

An autobiographical libretto?

It has been speculated that the couple Verdi-Strepponi saw their own situation manifested in the drama. Giuseppina was a celebrated opera singer who had previously been the lover of a well-known tenor, bearing him two sons which were given up for adoption. Her unmarried relationship with the widower Verdi did not go unnoticed by society, and the gossip in their home town of Busseto culminated in the year 1852. Verdi's former father-in-law and mentor Antonio Barezzi felt compelled to chastise his protégé. Not for taking another lover after the death of his daughter, but for living in sin with her as an unmarried couple. Verdi, who had always considered Barezzi his spiritual father, did not react well to this dressing down. He defended the dignity of his and Giuseppina's free and independent life in a letter to his father-in-law. There are those who see a resemblance between Barezzi and the third principal role in the opera, Germont senior, but there are question marks over how far it is possible to extend these similarities to La Traviata. It is undoubtedly true that Giuseppina was an active contributor in the creation of Verdi's operas at this time, but to believe that Verdi would represent his future wife as a Parisian demi-monde seems unlikely. Whatever parallels Verdi and his Giuseppina drew from their own lives will remain a mystery. 

What was deemed to be unbefitting for a theatre in Paris was even less likely to be accepted on an opera stage in Italy

Upon Verdi's return from Paris, he and Piave discussed potential subjects for the next commission from La Fenice in Venice, with their attention eventually turning to a copy of Dumas' La Dame aux camélias. He had clearly been considering the story the entire time, but had not wanted to suggest anything before he had also read the play. He may have had his fears that the subject matter and the modern setting would prove too shocking. However, in a letter to a friend, he confessed that the modern backdrop appealed to him, a "subject for our own age," as he expressed it. Piave's libretto shares some substantial similarities with the original drama, although also some major deviations. The character of Marguerite Gautier is already developed into a more idealised figure in the play compared with the novel, with her cold, calculating and promiscuous sides considerably toned down. What was deemed to be unbefitting for a boulevard theatre in Paris was even less likely to be accepted on an opera stage in Italy. Consequently. the libretto notes only the fact that Violetta is a courtesan. For the same reason, Piave eliminated the entirety of Dumas' second act, in which Marguerite attempts to borrow money from a former lover in order to join Armand and live in the countryside. The narratives begin to bear a resemblance again when the father visits the pair in their country residence, at which point the story begins to take on a tragic dimension. Piave even reproduces Dumas' dialogue verbatim on several occasions. The role of the father is given much more depth than the play, as Italian opera called for an obligatory principal role for the baritone. These additions (his appearance at Flora's party in the final scene of the second act and his visit to Violetta's deathbed) also mean that the father has a more sympathetic nature than in the play. 

As Verdi continued his composition on La Traviata, the problems he had anticipated began to make themselves known: the management of Teatro La Fenice expressed their concerns for the public reaction to the opera's modern staging. This is in itself a little peculiar, given that Dumas' play was due to be staged in Venice that year. Verdi let it be known that he wished the opera to be staged in a contemporary setting, with reference to such aspects as the dance music to be played off stage during the first act. He was eventually forced to compromise, but instructed Piave to inform the theatre that no wigs were to be worn. It seems from that Verdi was also forced back down from this demand as well: the poster proclaims "Paris and its surroundings around 1700". The illustration on the printed score also clearly depicts a costume belonging to this period.

After first threatening to withdraw the piece, Verdi appears to have given up and resigned to the idea that the opera would be failure. 
Illustration from the first performance in Venice 1853

The “wrong” singer

La Traviata's world première in 1853 was a huge fiasco, which has long been attributed to the audience's shock at recognising aspects of themselves in the modern environment on the stage. This is, however, a misconception, as the theatre ordered the opera to be delayed even before the premiere. The fiasco can be more accurately blamed on the fact that the singers could not do Verdi’s opera justice, neither in terms of their singing nor dramatic capabilities. Verdi had been worried from the very beginning about the casting of the roles, especially that of Violetta. When it was confirmed that Fanny Salvini-Donatelli had been given the role, he desperately scrambled to find another soprano for the opera, but in vain. After first threatening to withdraw the piece, Verdi appears to have given up and resigned to the idea that the opera would be failure. 

Salvini-Donatelli was an old-school soprano, exceptional at coloratura but without the ability to inject dramatic urgency into her acting. The history books show that she was only able to succeed in the first act, and that when, during the final act, the doctor announces that Violetta, bedridden with consumption, has but a few hours left to live, the audience burst into disbelieving guffaws. Salvini-Donatelli was namely of a somewhat portlier stature. The tenor Lodovico Graziani as Alfredo was terribly out of sorts and Felice Varesi, who had met with such success as Rigoletto just two years previously, was beginning to show signs of decline and was very disappointed with his part. He found it difficult to embody the role in the unfamiliar environment and with its specific characterisation. 

Verdi probably realised that the fault lay with the singers, and there was a general consensus among the critics that the piece could not be properly appraised before it was better performed. Verdi withdrew his score after a handful of performances and rejected offers from other opera houses to put on the piece. After some minor adjustments, La Traviata was staged at a smaller Venetian opera house, with Piave directing and Maria Spezia as Violetta. She was cut from a different cloth from Salvini - delicate, tender and passionate. The transformation was immediate and the performance was a resounding success. The opera quickly spread across Europe, but continued with its baroque setting until the 1890s, when even the 1850s was considered a bygone era.               

Intimate musical drama played out in the parlour

La Traviata has a sophistication and intimacy not evident in any of Verdi's previous operas. The events play out in perfect balance with the music and he has further refined the singing parts' parlando over the orchestra in the various party scenes. The work can be seen as a contemporary drawing room play transposed to the opera stage. The card playing scene in the finale of the second act is an object lesson in musical drama performance, where the orchestra captures the mood of the room and reveals the characters' true feelings. The scene features an unexpected encounter between Violetta and Alfredo at a party hosted by Flora, after she has written to end their relationship. Violetta's former lover and current suitor, Alfredo and Baron Douphol, meet in a card game in which the baron loses all of his money to Alfredo, leading to the pair agreeing to a duel when the party is over. Verdi's music in this moment truly uncovers the underlying intentions behind the text, but which the players in the scene never actually speak. The woodwind section gives life to a hectic theme which forms the background to the apparent nonchalance of the character's words. The theme captures the hidden stresses and anguish experienced by the people on stage, which they do everything to conceal. The only one to break out from this chatter is Violetta, whose melodic cantilenas for herself give voice to her dilemma. La Traviata represented an enormous advance as a dramatic departure from the then bel canto-dominated world of Italian opera. 

Göran Gademan


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