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Lavish Parties, Sex, and Booze – What Could Go Wrong?

Marina Rebeka as Violetta; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Marina Rebeka as Violetta; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Verdi’s La traviata LIVE, Wednesday at 7:15 pm

Giuseppe Verdi writes so eloquently about being human, one can wallow in Lyric Opera’s La traviata, and go home feeling completely satisfied. It’s a great “first opera” for your friends. It’s also one of those tales that nags at your subconscious, and keeps you googling into the wee hours.

Traviata is a simple story: love bites, family disapproves, hearts get broken. Told from the perspective of the courtesan Violetta (you can guess which family does the disapproving), Verdi’s story bores deep into the most basic assumptions about the 19th century woman. Daughters of the gentry were well-groomed and well-educated in the humanities; their security depended upon one thing: marrying a man of means. Courtesans, on the other hand, were well-groomed and well-educated in the humanities; their security depended upon one thing: appealing to a man of means—hmm. The main difference is that one set of women bears the children, the other has all the fun.

The cast speaks about the opera’s appeal:

Play

Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, clearly softens toward Violetta. Unfortunately, he’s stuck with a dilemma: giving Violetta his blessing would sabotage the engagement of his daughter. Violetta chooses not to be a victim in this drama. Seeing it as a path to redemption, she decides the story’s outcome, spurning her beloved Alfredo for the sake of his sister.

Quinn Kelsey on his character, Giorgio Germont:

Play

Is this kind of story still relevant?

Joseph Calleja as Alfredo and Quinn Kelsey as Germont; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Joseph Calleja as Alfredo and Quinn Kelsey as Germont; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Some things have changed since Alexandre Dumas the younger wrote the play that became Verdi’s La traviata. In varying degrees, people are more sexually liberated, more open to upward mobility (whereas Violetta’s common birth would have been an issue); and women have far more options. Yet we all know exceptions to these trends. This week’s news brings us another story that could have come right out of La traviata; it’s a story in which one sibling has chosen to raise a family, and make a life with someone. The other sibling is running for U.S. senate, and fears her campaign will be damaged if she condones her sister’s marriage—and she’s probably right. It was this conundrum of the heart that so captivated Verdi. He wasn’t interested in idealized characters. His was a desire to show how messy life can be when humans are involved, and to breathe compassion and a kind of nobility into our struggles. In La traviata, Violetta cannot escape the forces that bring about her destruction, but she can and she does choose what kind of woman she will be in the face of them.

 

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