Hinge on acts of nobility and sacrifice, themes dear to Verdi’s heart.
Poster for the world premiere of La Traviata
The first performance of the La Traviata was on 6 March 1853 at the La Fenice Opera House in Venice.
It was jeered at times by the audience, who directed some of their mockery at the casting of soprano Fanny Salvini-Donatelli in the lead role of Violetta. Though she was an acclaimed singer, they considered her to be too old (at 38) and too overweight to credibly play a young woman dying of consumption. Verdi had previously attempted to persuade the manager of La Fenice to re-cast the role with a younger woman, but with no success. Nevertheless, the First Act was met with applause and cheering at the end; but in the Second Act, the audience began to turn against the performance, especially after the singing of the baritone (Felice Varesi) and the tenor (Lodovico Graziani). The day after, Verdi wrote to his friend Muzio in what has now become perhaps his most famous letter: “La Traviata last night a failure. Was the fault mine or the singers’? Time will tell.”
But there is no doubt that Verdi knew La Traviata was a masterpiece and, given the right cast, it would triumph. After some revisions between 1853 and May 1854, mostly affecting Acts 2 and 3, the Opera was presented again in Venice, this time at the Teatre San Benedetto. This performance was a critical success, largely due to Maria Spezia-Aldighieri’s portrayal of Violetta. The Opera (in the revised version) was first performed in Vienna on 4 May 1855 in Italian. It was first performed in England on 24 May 1856 in Italian at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, where it was considered morally questionable It was first performed in the United States on 3 December 1856 in Italian at the Academy of Music in New York. The Evening Post critic wrote: “Those who have quietly sat through the glaring improprieties of Don Giovanni will hardly blush or frown at anything in La Traviata.” The Opera was first performed in France on 6 December 1856 in Italian by the Theatre_Italien at the Salle Ventadour in Paris, and on 27 October 1864 in French as Violetta (an adaptation by Edouard Duprez) at the Theatre Lyrique.
The French adaptation of the libretto was published in 1865. Piave and Verdi wanted to follow Dumas in giving the Opera a contemporary setting, but the authorities at La Fenice insisted that it be set in the past, “c. 1700”. It was not until the 1880s that the composer and librettist’s original wishes were carried out and “realistic” productions were staged. The title ‘La Traviata’ is usually translated as ‘The Fallen Woman’, but means more accurately ‘The Fragile or Weak Woman’. This captures more of the heroine’s physical disability and vulnerability in a world dominated by masculine double-standards and moral selfishness. Verdi’s private life at that time was overcast by the self-righteous disapproval of Italian society. His domestic arrangements, which included Giuseppina Strepponi to whom he was not married, drew critical comment from strangers and relations. The treatment Giuseppina received from her neighbours must have contributed to the sensitive depiction of Violetta. When Verdi decided upon the theme for his new Opera, his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave said he had never seen the maestro so excited about a project. In fact, Piave’s libretto for Verdi’s Opera was a great deal more ‘acceptable’ than the book on which it was based ‘La Dame aux Camelias’ by Alexandre Dumas, fils.
Despite frequently voicing the need for something new, something modern, Verdi was really rather partial to the operatic conventions of his time. What was modern about La Traviata was the costume. Verdi wanted the characters dressed in contemporary clothes. The audience was startled, disquieted by this innovation. If the Composer hadn’t held Italy in the palm of his hand at that time, it is feasible that La Traviata might have sunk after its first production, never to have won its deserved place at the heart of world Opera. La Traviata is now placed at the summit of world Opera, and is a sample of the standard operatic repertoire.
Follow this link to find out where we will be performing with La Traviata Opera