Melodramma in three acts (1853)
Francesco Maria Piave based on
Alexandre Dumas’ fils "La dame aux camélias"
Only once did Giuseppe Verdi turn his attention to a contemporary subject, Alexandre Dumas the Younger’s »La dame aux camélias«. As a novel and a play, Dumas based his story on true events. Verdi composed a score of great intensity that conveys a wide range of emotions: joy and exuberance, sorrow and despair. The audience is pulled into the plot and feels directly affected by Violetta’s fate. As the last work of the »trilogia populare«, »La Traviata«, which premiered in 1853 and was first shown at Unter den Linden in 1860, quickly quashed initial scepticism and became a successful opera on an international scale. Dieter Dorn’s production portrays Violetta as a woman condemned to death from the very beginning, but who rebels against her fate. In the end, she fades away, almost ethereally.
Violetta Valéry is ill. Musically speaking, the story is told beginning with her death. It is with her death that the opera begins and ends, the dream of an impossible love. She has decided to hold a party as medicine against the consumption she is suffering from: in the tumult of the crowd, in delirium, in joint drinking she wants to surrender herself to pleasure. Gastone, Vicomte de Letorières, introduces to her a new guest, Alfredo Germont, who has been her admirer for a year and offers her his love and a restful life. Violetta is forced to decide, between Baron Douphol, who has been paying her for a year, or Alfredo, whom she loves like no other before. In the early morning after her guests have departed, Violetta tries to decide what she wants: a serious love, or a life that is entirely dedicated to pleasure. She decides for Alfredo.
Violetta and Alfredo have now lived for three months in the country. They are happy, but their money is running out. Violetta, assisted by her servant Annina, is occupied with selling all her possessions, since she no longer earns any money. Alfredo praises his luck at gambling, but in his carelessness doesn’t think about how to finance it. When Annina tells him that Violetta is just about to sell everything, he travels to Paris to find a different solution. In the meantime, his father Giorgio Germont visits Violetta. He accuses her of wasting the family’s money and destroying their reputation. Violetta at first denies this vehemently Although Germont knows his error, he argues with all means and tricks against Violetta’s relationship with Alfredo. He asks her to leave Alfredo, to avoid preventing his daughter’s planned favorable marriage. Violetta is forced to accept that the “better circles” do not forgive, that her new life is not accepted. She then decides for a radical break. She will pretend to return to her old life. An invitation to a party hosted by Flora Bervoix, her friend and competitor, that she just received, offers her the opportunity to meet with the baron. She writes a goodbye letter for Alfredo, which he receives after her departure.
Flora’s party: Violetta is planning to attend. It is rumored that she and Alfredo are no longer a couple. The party begins with the appearance of “the gypsy women”, who read the palms of Flora Bervoix and her lover, Marquis d’Obigny, revealing his constant infidelity. They are followed by a group of bullfighters, led by Gastone. They tell the story of the brave Piquillo, who has to kill five bulls in order to win over his love. But the party has little interest in bravery; they are satisfied with enjoying pleasure and risky gambling. Violetta appears with the Baron. Alfredo, who has come alone, wins his gambling matches, including those against the Baron. While all go off to dine, Violetta warns Alfredo of the Baron. Alfredo tries to force her to leave with him. But she refuses, claiming to love only the Baron. Alfredo then insults Violetta publicly, by paying her the money he won in the game. His father, who arrives in just that moment, condemns this behavior, as does the Baron, who challenges him to a duel.
It is carnival in Paris. Violetta is alone with Annina, when the doctor arrives. He comforts Violetta, but tells Annina that death is immanent. A letter from Germont reveals to Violetta that the duel has taken place. The Baron has been wounded, while Alfredo is on the run. His father told him the truth of Violetta’s unfailing love. Violetta sways between hope and a certainty of death. Once again, the loud public erupts onto the scene, this time a masked bacchanalian chorus. Annina announces the arrival of Alfredo. The couple outdoes each other in mutual declarations of love. Violetta wants to go out, but she is too weak. They mourn the impossibility of their love. Giorgio Germont, who has now arrived, also joins in the mourning. Violetta is animated once more by an “unusual force,” but then dies with the words: “Oh joy…”, “Oh gio- - -ja.”