La Traviata

Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Pavé
Glyndebourne Opera House
Glyndebourne Opera House

Venera Gimadieva and Michael Fabiano Credit: Richard Hubert Smith
Venera Gimadieva and Cast Credit: Richard Hubert Smith
Venera Gimadieva Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

Marie Duplessis, the famous French courtesan, died of consumption in Paris in 1847. She was 23 years old. Alexander Dumas wrote about their relationship in his semi-autobiographical novel La Dame aux Camellias, which was published in 1848 and well received. He was 23 years old.

Dumas then turned it into a play in 1852. It was a great success, a succes de scandale. It was so modern. The role has been played by Bernhardt (perhaps her most famous role), Duse, Feuillere and memorably on film by Garbo.

Giuseppe Verdi turned the play into an opera in 1853. The première was a fiasco due to miscasting but quickly recovered and has remained his most popular opera ever since. The melodies are great. The chance of seeing Dumas’s play is remote.

La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) has always been a popular subject for novelists, playwrights and painters. The courtesan with a heart of gold, nobly sacrificing herself for the man she loves and dying of consumption, is the very stuff of which romantic dramas are made and for which tears have been shed endlessly.

The role has attracted the greatest sopranos such as Nilsson, Melba, Schwarzkopf, Callas, Sutherland, Freni and Caball. Glyndebourne staged an updated production in 2014 conducted by Mark Elder and directed by Tom Cairns which can now be seen online.

Venera Gimadieva is Violetta. Michael Fabiano is Alfredo. Tassis Christoyannis is Germont. Gimadieva and Fabiano (not quite young enough) bring a tough “love me as much as I love you” quality to their characterizations. There is nothing sentimental about them. The drama is strongly sung and acted and the trauma and pathos are there for all to hear. Verdi is so good.

Two scenes, as always, stand out dramatically and musically. The first is when Germont, Alfredo’s father, persuades Violetta to give up Alfredo. The second is Germont’s public condemnation of his son's despicable behaviour at the gaming tables when Alfredo throws all his winnings in Violetta's face. The incident leads directly into the tremendous act III ensemble.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch