High voices. Loud. Intense. A ton of emotion, even more singing and many hardly understood words. Opera reminds me of Barolo, the famous Piedmontese wine, that matures very long and therefore has an exceptional quality. I like opera. At the same time I find this art form a bit awe-inspiring. Why? I always thought I had to know a lot about opera to understand an opera. Maybe I needed Verdi’s La Traviata to understand that this is not true. The story in La Traviata is moving, not outmoded at all, the melodies are stunning and the dialogues seem contemporary. This story quickly finds its way into the heart of the listener.
An opera evening begins
For weeks I have been living in anticipation. I fly home after work, dress and sandwiches ready (important note: avoid to be hungry in an opera). To fuel my anticipation I had read a review of La Scala’s start of the season with La Traviata and about its plot – better to be prepared. My idea: An opera is a complex art form, knowing main characters and basic moves in the storyline can only be useful for the overall enjoyment of the work.
We arrive just in time, quickly jump out of our car in front of La Scala building and marvel at the festive illumination of the buildings around us. The centre of Milan sparkles and shines during advent just like a stage. We enter the theatre’s vestibule, temporarily the largest accumulation of fur coats in the city. Milan women are superior in style at any occasion, the men are in dark suits (always with a tie). Flats are an option, I spot only one pair of jeans. Our palco, box is on the fourth floor, quite narrow, its walls covered in red velvet. Every box has its own cloak room. (This solves the riddle how visitors exit the building after the opera as fast as the Colosseum). As I sit down my enthusiasm is directed at the famous auditorium.
Critics have expressed disappointment for Dmitri Tscherniakow’s production. In me this scorcher evokes only solidarity. Traditionalists tend to bleat. I am open for fresh impressions! This is my first La Traviata – I am completely unbiased. Neither “tired voices” nor “ugly rags” can dampen my enthusiasm.
When the lights are still on as a person with a microphone shows up in front of the curtain, this can mean only two things: either Violetta, sung by Diana Damrau or Alfredo, sung by Piotr Beszala fell ill. The curtain raises and a charming brunette soprano is preparing for a party – a yet unknown Violetta.
La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi – Act one
Sit down, my dear friends
And let’s open our hearts to each other …
You say well, for wine is a friend
That puts secret sorrow to flight!
Violetta is a party girl, celebrations determine her lifestyle. She usually has a rich lover at her side. Pleasure is all she wants from life, it seems. But she is ill, suffers from Tuberculosis. A new guest burst into the party and into her life. With his honest concerns about the wellbeing of his party host he breaks through the superficiality surrounding her, finally declaring his love for her. His reward? A rather dismissive:
So no more about love.
In the following duet both, Violetta and Alfredo, wonderfully insist on their positions. (In a duet there are two singers, who sing simultaneously, but not the same!) The passionately in love Alfredo receives a camellia when saying farewell. He is allowed to bring it back once it has withered. (The La Traviata story is based on Dumas‘, fils, The Lady of the Camellias.) A fooling and open door. Violetta tentatively begins to remember her dreams of true love, still far outbalanced by doubt.
Would a true love bring me misfortune?
What do you think, o my troubled spirit?
No man before kindled a flame like this.
Irreconcilable as it seems Violettas distrust in true feelings remind me of disappointed love and heartsickness, preserved over a long time.
Free and aimless I must flutter
From pleasure to pleasure,
Skimming the surface
Of life’s primrose path.
But her desire for true love that continues even at the sickbed has not been completely erased. Was it Alfredos persistency or the allure of genuine happiness, a few months later Violetta renounces her old lifestyle and moves to the countryside to live with Alfredo.
La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi – Act two
Soon the young bliss is endangered by Alfredo’s father. Violetta hopes for the recommencement and absolution of society. Clearly an illusion. The father asks her to give up the relationship with his son, so Alfredo could return to the family thus rendering possible the wedding of his sister. But Violetta really loves Alfredo now and has found in him, what she never had: true love, a friend and family. Alfredo’s father insists and starts to resort to the lack of acknowledgement of their relationship in society as well as to Violetta’s insecurity aiming to motivate her to surrender.
A second chance in life – always up-to-date. I find the dialogue between Violetta and Alfredo’s father particularly moving, because it shows two people fighting for the same – their own families. Therefore the confrontation lacks ferocity. Both can only rely on their persuasiveness. Alfredo’s father is in a stronger position as he has honour in his side. Violetta has not yet embraced her new life fully and is still vulnerable to the lack of acceptance in society. She has no means to defend herself morally and gives in. She adopts his belief her happiness were less valuable than that of the others. She has no family while at the same time longing for only that. Because Alfredo’s father argues in the name of family happiness she gives in.
Be the consoling angel of my family!
So, for the wretched woman
Who’s fallen once,
The hope of rising is for ever gone!
At the farewell:
As your daughter now embrace me,
So you may give me strength.
I am stunned (with tear drops running down my cheeks. No problem, it is dark in the box. 🙂 Alfredo is broken-hearted, his father has reached his goal. Now there is only the son to be cheered up. That is not going so well. The son prefers to attend the party where he suspects Violetta to be.
La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi – Act three
Alfredo appears at the party, marvelled at, quizzed but without any real interest. The partying crowd prefers to return to the usual agenda.
How unimpassioned! Bravo!
Now, let’s have a game!
Violetta appears dressed in a flamboyant green dress and a stiff, curly hairdo having as much bourgeois elegance as a dried out desert river. I like this alienated look. Violettas inner and outer beauty do not fit into her appearance just as her old life does not fit her anymore.
With the strength of her love for Alfredo Violetta has long convinced his father of her sincerity. He defends her now against the hurt lover’s fury.
No spoiler from me here. Just my conclusion: A fresh and intuitive production that I liked a lot. The applause was intense, bravo-calls for the formerly unknown soprano (I did not write down her name – I have to find out and will add asap), father and son numerous.
My only advise, if in Italy go see an opera! Opera is alive!