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La Traviata is one of the most famous works of Verdi (1813 – 1901). It brought him international fame during his lifetime! But how well do you know this opera?

Did you know, for example, that Verdi was inspired by his own story? Or that this opera was a flop at its first performance? Discover the history of La Traviata by Verdi!

Article produced in partnership with La Seine Musicale

Decipher La Traviata during an educational concert

La Traviata is like the Pretty Woman of the 19th century, with a dose of tragedy! Verdi, that formidable composer, succeeded in slipping into this opera an irrepressible passion, triumphant and then fragile and wavering.

How did he manage to make us feel these emotions? On Saturday, April 15 at 6:00 pm, the conductor Mathieu Herzog and his orchestra Appassionato offer you a didactic concert to enter the factory of Verdi’s emotions.

Leave your prejudices about classical music behind and learn to decipher Verdi’s work with Vous Trouvez ça Classique? an original concert to be enjoyed just before the aperitif at La Seine Musicale in Boulogne-Billancourt.

Verdi's La Traviata: an opera that shook up the codes 3
Conductor Mathieu Herzog and the Appassionato Orchestra © DR

What is La Traviata about?

La Traviata is an opera inspired by Alexandre Dumas fils’ novel, ” La Dame au Camelia “. Set in 19th century Paris, it follows the story of Violetta Valery, a courtesan suffering from tuberculosis who falls in love with Alfredo Germont, a young man from a good family. The couple falls in love, but Alfredo’s father opposes the relationship and accuses Violetta of dishonoring his son and his family. Violetta then renounces her love to avoid a family scandal…

How was La Traviata born?

In 1852, Verdi was already famous. The success of the opera Rigoletto, composed the previous year, ensured him a good reputation. He then accepted a commission from the La Fenice theater in Venice, but without having any idea of the subject.

During a stay in Paris in the early 1850s, Verdi attended a performance of La Dame aux Camélias. Captivated by the subject, he began composing this new opera, which he named “La Traviata”, which means “The Deviated”.

Verdi's La Traviata: an opera that shook up the codes 4
“La Traviata, un vieux succès qui toujours re-Verdi-t” – Theatrical Chronicle, 1886 – Source : Gallica / BnF

An opera inspired by Verdi’s own story

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Portrait of Giuseppina Strepponi ca. 1840

Although it is an adaptation of The Lady of the Camellias, Verdi was also inspired by his own story. At that time, he shared the life of the singer Giuseppina Strepponi but did not marry her until ten years after their meeting. This relationship outside of marriage is very badly perceived in the second half of the nineteenth century. La Traviata thus allowed the composer to express, in music, his criticism of society.

I have nothing to hide. In my house lives a free, independent woman, who, like me, loves the solitary life, and has a fortune that protects her from need. Neither she nor I owe anyone any account for our actions. […] Who is entitled to cast the first stone?” – Verdi

A censored opera

To underline this criticism of society, Verdi wanted the actors to be dressed in contemporary costumes, but the La Fenice theater asked him to transpose his opera to the 18th century so as not to shock the public.

Verdi's La Traviata: an opera that shook up the codes 6
Poster for the premiere of La Traviata at La Fenice

Not easy to interpret La Traviata!

If Verdi’s arias seem simple and are quickly memorized by the spectator, for the singers on the other hand it is not the same story… Verdi imagined the character of Violetta as having 3 tessituras, which makes her interpretation particularly complex and limits the number of singers able to embody her.

A work of the “Trilogia popolare”

With Rigoletto (1851) and Il Trovatore (1853), La Traviata is part of the “popular trilogy”. In these operas, he tackles subjects that are usually uncommon on the opera stage, such as illness, worldly life, money and prostitution. These compositions, modern in both subject and style, contributed to Verdi’s fame.

Did you know that?

Verdi's La Traviata: an opera that shook up the codes 7
Photograph by Giuseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi was one of the most influential Italian composers of the 19th century. Yet nothing predestined him for this career? Born near Parma in a very modest family, the young “Peppino” – as he was nicknamed – was not promised a great future, but his parents did everything to give him an education and the good reputation of the Verdi family allowed the young prodigy to have many protectors.

A premiere that was a flop…

During its first performance, La Traviata is far from convincing the public. The fault lies mainly in a bad casting: the singer Fanny Salvini-Donatelli, full-figured, was chosen to interpret Violetta, a young woman dying. This discrepancy of morphology turned the opera into a joke.

Verdi's La Traviata: an opera that shook up the codes 8
Fanny Salvini Donatelli, ca. 1840

Nevertheless, the opera was performed nine times and the public gave it a respectable reception. In 1854, Verdi revised part of the opera and the staging was reworked for a new performance at the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice, which was a real success and marked the beginning of an international consecration for La Traviata.

Learn to decipher Verdi’s work in a discovery concert at La Seine Musicale

If you think that classical music is not for you or that it is too uptight a genre, put aside your prejudices and let yourself be carried away by this pedagogical concert proposed at aperitif time to start the evening with friends or family, on Saturday April 15 at 6 pm.

Mathieu Herzog and his orchestra Appassionato will reveal the secrets of La Traviata. They will be accompanied by the soprano Jeanne Gérard and the tenor Sungho Kim to interpret extracts of the famous opera.

We must warn you that the arias of La Traviata are hits that easily stay in your head, so it is likely that you will leave this concert with more than one title on your lips 😉

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The Auditorium of La Seine Musicale, photograph by Ludwig Favre

Article produced in partnership with La Seine Musicale

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