Opulent Elegance and Escapades of a Glamorous Parisian Courtesan
Productions shown in this summer’s free online HD screenings from the Metropolitan Opera include Giuseppe Verdi‘s well-loved opera, La Traviata. As a sparkling, exemplary new production by Michael Mayer, this opera was part of the 2018—19 season at the MET. This superb screening is from the performance on December 15, 2018, and was conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Met’s Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer Music Director.
The production features a highly-acclaimed cast of world-renowned principal singers, Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez and Quinn Kelsey. As the celebrated Parisian courtesan, Violetta, Diana Damrau is faced with a difficult dilemma. She must decide whether to continue a life of grandiose luxury or embrace the consuming passion of true love.
Juan Diego Flórez, as Alfredo, her love-obsessed suitor, is determined to win Violetta’s undivided attention and affection. As Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s uncompromising father, Quinn Kelsey persuades Violetta to turn away from her ardent passion for Alfredo. However, even as she takes her last breath, dying of consumption, Alfredo is at her bedside.
Vivid Portrayals of Ardent Love and Tragic Loss
Viewers watch this mesmerizing spectacle, captivated by the drama, extravagance, humor, conflict, gaiety and final tragedy of this spellbinding saga. Vividly, viewers experience every emotion, dynamic or nuanced, as Violetta moves along the exotic yet precarious path to her demise. From the glittering fashion and flair of her extravagant life to the heights of passion, she captures everyone’s rapt attention.
This dramatic sequence is followed by Violetta’s separation from young Alfredo, who she then gives up. Subsequently, she abandons the passion and purpose of her new life for the benefit of a stranger, a younger woman. This young woman is Alfredo’s younger sister who is about to marry and start a respectable adult life. At the opera’s disastrous, tragic ending, Violetta, critically ill with consumption, dies with a heartbroken Alfredo at her bedside.
Verdi’s unequaled balancing of tumultuous emotions tempered by moments of lighthearted gaiety is an exquisite, empowering force in this opera. These dynamic qualities are well-grounded by all-consuming, heavyweight tragedy. Subsequently, the opera’s score and libretto are among the most highly acclaimed portrayals of ardent love and tragic loss.
Dramatic Impact of the Opera
The story of the opera, La Traviata, (the fallen, or straying, woman) is based on the play entitled, La Dame aux Camélias, written by Alexandre Dumas in 1852. The opera is an excellent example of Verdi’s desire to express dramatic concepts in music. In addition, this opera includes some of the most demanding and celebrated arias in the soprano repertoire. An outstanding example is the well-known ‘Sempre libera,’ ending Act I.
Earlier in the first act, Alfredo sings ‘Libiamo ne’ lieti calici’ (the ‘Brindisi’), as an invitation to Violetta: “Let us drink a toast to the free, happy life and to love.” Of course, this is a charming invitation to Violetta, who embraces and enjoys her own carefree, extravagant lifestyle. However, she must weigh the value of freedom vs. commitment.
Principal Singers of This Production
Soprano Diana Damrau, as Violetta, radiates elegant charm and extravagant opulence in her dramatic portrayal, demeanor and presence. Her superbly centered focus and sheer beauty of vocal agility combine seamlessly. She delivers purest tonality throughout with brilliant, diamond-edged, exquisite bell tones in her higher-range coloratura passages.
Tenor Juan Diego Flórez, as Alfredo, exhibits exemplary vocal control enhanced by the grandeur and timbre of resonant low notes. His richly sculpted, resounding ring in the higher ranges brings exhilarating expertise to this grand, ornate opera. His ardent passion for Violetta is completely convincing and unwavering throughout this mesmerizing performance.
Baritone Quinn Kelsey, as Giorgio Germont, gives a stalwart, unrelenting performance as Alfredo’s old-fashioned, uncompromising father. The full, rounded tones of his rich baritone delivery portray a father firmly committed to the morality of the day. The formality of his presence and demeanor serve as emphasis of his unyielding advocacy of the “respectable lifestyle.”
Unparalleled and Well-Loved Opera Score and Libretto
The vividly portrayed subject and plot of La Traviata is universal in significance and impact. Violetta, the fashionable Parisian courtesan and central character of this opera could be relevant to virtually any societal era. Verdi set this opulent scene with its tragic outcome in his own time, the mid-1800s. However, censors insisted that he alter the opera’s time-frame for the premiere.
As a result, Verdi and librettist Francesco Maria Piave agreed to change the time period of La Traviata to around 1750. This alleviated the censors’ concern that such a risqué opera might taint the morality of their contemporary society. Although viewed differently today, the same or similar social issues still exist, and they are not likely to disappear.
Without doubt, this is one reason for the public’s continued love of this magnificent opera. Additionally, its seamless merging of an intimate, humorous and heartbreaking story and the tragic heroine’s demise are riveting and relatable. With an unparalleled score and libretto, this opera embraces the entire spectrum of human emotions and artistic expression.
From lighthearted coloratura to deepest emotional depths and resonant tonalities preceding impending death, La Traviata is an exquisite masterpiece. The public is forever fortunate to have the great opportunity of experiencing this and other Metropolitan Opera performances in HD.
Many thanks to the MET’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, and to Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer Music Director. Many thanks as well to the MET Orchestra, Chorus and Production Artists for the grand beauty of this exemplary production. In conclusion, special thanks to the Principal Singers and the entire Cast of this brilliant, captivating performance from the MET.