"La Traviata" is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi based on a 1852 play adapted from the novel by Alexander Dumas La dame aux Camlias. The title "La Traviata" means literally "The Woman Gone Astray," or perhaps more figuratively, "The Fallen Woman." The first performance of the opera, on 6 March 1853 in Venice, was an utter failure. The day after, Verdi wrote to a friend in what has now become perhaps his most famous letter: "'La Traviata' last night a failure. My fault or the singers'? Time will tell." This letter not only implies what Verdi already knew that the singers, particularly the obese soprano who could never convincingly play a dying consumptive, had failed to "understand his music." But more importantly, this letter captures Verdi's faith that the public ultimately knows what is and is not good art and will pronounce its judgment in good time.
After some revisions between 1853 and 1854, mostly affecting Acts 2 and 3, the opera was presented again in Venice, this time the performance was a critical success.
The opera takes place in Paris at the beginning of the 18th century. Violetta Valry, a well know courtesan, throws a party to celebrate her recovery. Gaston, a count, comes and introduces her to Alfredo Germont, who has fallen in love with Violetta from afar. Although at first she rejects Alfredo there is something about him that touches her heart and she agrees to see him the following day.
Three months later they are both living together at Violettas country house and due to money problems, Violetta sells her jewelry and Alfredo leaves for Paris. During his absence, Alfredos father Gorgio has come to see Violetta to ask that she break off with Alfredo to preserve his familys honor. She admits that she has fallen in love with Alfredo and cant break from him, but after a while she is convinced by Gorgio to do so. She writes Alfredo a letter and leaves for Paris.
Sometime later at a party in Paris Violetta runs into Alfredo, who publicly humiliates her when he notices her there with a baron. Alfredos father comes in and publicly denounces his sons behavior.
In the last act, Violetta receives a letter from Gorgio telling her that the baron was wounded in a duel by Alfredo and that he has explained to Alfredo everything that happened and that he will be arriving soon to ask for her forgiveness. This last scene is very moving as Violetta is slowly dying of tuberculosis. After a duet with Alfredo she dies in his arms.
True to form the Metropolitan Opera House in New York is taking on the latest production of "La Traviata" with its usual idea of modernizing the production. Instead of the lush ornate Franco Zeffirelli production, it is using the vision of minimalist German Willy Decker. The stage holds a stark white set, Violetta in a red dress, a bevy of men in black suits and a giant clock, driving home the notion that time is running out on Violetta, played by Ms. Marina Poplavskaya, and Alfredo, played by Matthew Polenzani.
Mr. Decker said his production stripped away extraneous elements to focus on the characters. It emphasizes the conflict between female and male, he said. He noted that the set has only one exit point, conveying the dead-end faced by the lovers. I for one think this is wrong. Violetta inhabits a world of luxury, so Zeffirellis extravagance is appropriate. Even the country house in Act 2 is expensive; remember she is selling her jewelry to pay for its upkeep. I hate to contemplate a recession Traviata.
I have included two versions so that you choose which you would rather see, Zeffirellis or Deckers.
Carmen Ileana Romn writes a regular online column for The Frederick News-Post.