Synopsis of Giuseppe Verdi’s Opera, La Traviata
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
First Performed: 1853
Setting: 18th Century Paris
In her Parisian salon, Violetta, a courtesan, is greeting guests as they arrive for her party. She has recently come into better health and decided to host a party in celebration. Violetta greets many friends including Gastone, who introduces her to Alfredo Germont. Alfredo has admired Violetta for quite some time and even visited her bedside while she was sick. Gastone tells this to Violetta and Alfredo confirms. Moments later, Baron Douphol, Violetta’s current lover, invites her into the adjacent room. He is asked to give a speech, but when he refuses, the crowd turns to Alfredo. Violetta, not feeling well, tells the crowd to go to the adjacent room to dance. As they leave, Alfredo stays behind and confesses his love for her. She rejects him stating that love means nothing to her. Despite her initial rejection, Alfredo continues to declare his love for her. She begins to have a change of heart and tells him that she will meet him the next day. After the party is over and the guests are departing, she contemplates Alfredo and asks herself if he is actually the man for her. Singing the famous aria, Sempre Libera, she decides that she loves freedom more than love, while Alfredo is heard outside singing about romance.
Three months have passed. In Violetta’s country house outside of Paris, she and Alfredo sing of their love for one another. Violetta has given up her courtesan lifestyle, and all is happy and calm. That afternoon, their maid, Annina, returns to the house. Alfredo, curious, asks her where she went. She tells him that Violetta sent her to sell all of Violetta’s belongings as a means to support their country life. With both love and anger, Alfredo sets off for Paris to settle matters on his own. When Violetta enters the room looking for Alfredo, she comes across a party invitation from her friend, Flora. Violetta decides that she will not attend the party as she wants nothing more to do with her previous life. She is happily content where she is. However, when Alfredo’s father, Giorgio, comes to the house, her decision reluctantly changes. Giorgio tells her that she must break up with Alfredo. His daughter is about to be married, but Violetta’s reputation threatens the engagement. Violetta steadfastly refuses, and Giorgio is moved. His opinion of her had been wrong – she is more ladylike than he imagined. He still pleads with her to make a sacrifice for his family’s wellbeing. She finally gives in to his request. She sends her RSVP to Flora stating that she will be in attendance and writes her farewell letter to Alfredo. As she writes, Alfredo arrives home. Through her tears and sobs, she tells Alfredo of her undying love for him before rushing off to Paris. A while later, Alfredo’s father returns to console him. Their servant hands Alfredo the letter. After reading it, he sees Flora’s party invitation. He believes that Violetta has abandoned him for her former lover, Baron. Though Giorgio tries to stop him, he runs out the door to confront Violetta at the party.
Flora learns of Alfredo’s and Violetta’s separation but is intent on her hosting duties. She makes way for the hired entertainment. When Alfredo arrives, he bitterly sits down at the card table and begins gambling. It isn’t long before Violetta walks in with Baron. When Alfredo sees her, he shouts to Baron that she will be leaving with him. Baron angrily challenges Alfredo to a game of cards but loses a small fortune to him. When supper is announced, the party guests begin moving to the dining room. Violetta, longing to see Alfredo, asks him to stay behind to speak with her. Fearing that Baron will become angry and challenge Alfredo to a duel, she asks him to leave the party. Alfredo interprets her request differently and demands her to admit she loves Baron. Desperate for him to leave, she tells him she does. Alfredo begins shouting at her and calls in the other guests to witness her betrayal. As he begins to humiliate her, he throws his winnings at her. Violetta, overwhelmed, faints and falls to the floor. The guests rebuke him and start to kick him out of the party. His father shows up and denounces his son’s behavior. End the end, Violetta’s fears come to pass when Baron challenges Alfredo to a duel.
Half a year has passed, and Violetta’s condition has worsened. The doctor tells Annina that Violetta’s tuberculosis has significantly progressed and that she only has a few days left to live. As Violetta lays in her bed, she reads a letter sent by Giorgio telling her that Baron was only wounded in the duel. He tells her that he confessed to Alfredo that it was his fault for her sudden separation. He also tells her that he has sent his son to her to ask for forgiveness. Violetta, however, feels that it is too late – she has no life left in her. When Annina announces that Alfredo has arrived, it isn’t long before he enters the bedroom and embraces Violetta. Full of passion, he asks her to Paris. When the doctor and Giorgio enter the bedroom, Giorgio is full of remorse and regret. Suddenly, a surge of energy rushes through Violetta’s body, and she proclaims she no longer feels pain. She jumps out of bed to run to Paris with Alfredo. But as quickly as she rose, she falls dead to the floor at Alfredo’s feet.
Not everyone has the chance to go out and see an opera. Luckily, there are DVDs. Franco Zeffirelli produced a cinematic version of Verdi’s La Traviata starring Placido Domingo and Teresa Stratas that comes highly recommend.