Opera Profile: Verdi’s ‘La Traviata,’ One of the Greatest Italian Works Of All Time

By David Salazar

Verdi and Piave’s “La Traviata” is easily a “top five opera” on the planet when it comes to performances.

It premiered on March 6, 1853 and was based on a play adapted from “La Dame aux Camélias’ by Alexandre Dumas fils. Given that the subject matter was so contemporary, the work turned out to be a major flop at its premiere. Fortunately, the work recovered and is easily one of the most performed on the planet ever since.

For many sopranos, it is the opera that they most dream of singing due to the title role being among the most intense and passionate female characters in the artform.

Short Plot Summary

At a party, Violetta, a courtesan, meets Alfredo Germont who confesses to loving her for over a year. She brushes his love away but after the party, she considers his confession and how it has impacted her. At the close of the scene, she resolves to remain free.

At the start of the second act, Violetta and Alfredo are together at her country home. Unbeknownst to Alfredo, Violetta has been selling her things to pay for their life together and he rushes off to stop this. While he is gone, his father, Giorgio Germont, arrives to confront Violetta. He asks her to leave his son because his daughter is about to get married and her prospective family would look down on her if she were related to someone living in sin as Alfredo is. Violetta concedes and leaves.

Alfredo finds out about her abandonment and runs off to meet her at a party where she has already gotten back with a former lover. Alfredo insults Violetta in front of the guests but is confronted by his father.

Months later, Violetta is dying of consumption. She reads a letter from Germont that tells her that Alfredo knows of her sacrifice and is coming for her. But she knows it is too late. Alfredo returns, as does Germont, and Violetta dies in her lover’s arms.

Famous Musical Numbers

Verdi’s middle-period masterpiece has a plethora of essential vocal numbers that really express the opera’s unique melodic style.

Violetta’s three major arias – the Act one scena and the Act three “Addio del passato,” are iconic. We could stop there, but then you’d overlook the two love duets – “Un dì felice” and “Parigi o cara,” which provide structural balance to the opera. Or more crucially, the Act two duet between Germont and Violetta that proves to be the work’s turning point. Or even Germont’s “Di Provenza il mar.”

Then there’s a concertato at the close of Act two.

This opera is replete with melodic and dramatic gold.

Read More on “La Traviata’

A Look At the Opera’s Most Compelling Musical Passage

Interview: Soprano Corinne Winters On Taking On the Title Role

Watch and Listen

For those looking for a modern modern recording, check out this recent one from Prima Classic, starring Marina Rebeka and Charles Castronovo. 

Here is a famed recording by Maria Callas.


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