Monday, February 28, 2011
If you like Moulin Rouge, then you might like...
La Traviata was written by Giuseppe Verdi in the early 1850s and was, in turn, based off of a play written by Alexandre Dumas (this is the son of the Dumas we know as the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.) Literally translated, the title means "The Fallen Woman" and after a brief synopsis of the plot, I believe you will no longer say that the 2001 musical is "nothing" like opera.
The opera is performed in three acts. In the first, we are introduced to Violetta, a Parisian courtesan. In her salon, she meets several newcomers including the wealthy Baron Douphol and the young Bohemian, Alfredo, who extols the virtues of love. After she has a fainting spell (which she covers well) she goes to her room, where Alfredo finds her and confesses his love in beautiful and stunning song. Violetta struggles between her desire to believe in love and her desire for freedom, but she continues to hear the echos of Alfredo's voice.
In the second act, Alfredo's father learns of their affair and insists that she leave his son, claiming that their relationship is endangering the legitimate wedding of his daughter. She leaves, writing him a farewell note and reminding him that she loves him. But when he finds out that she's gone to a party given by one of her courtesan friends, he suspects that she has given him up for another lover. Alfredo goes to the party and is bitter and angry when he sees Violetta with the Baron. They play cards and the Baron loses a small fortune to him. Fearing for his life, Violetta urges him to leave; but he misunderstands! He accuses her of loving the Baron, denounces his own love, and throws his winnings at her feet. Alfred and the Baron duel.
Winding up the opera, we find out that the Baron was only injured in the duel and Alfredo now knows the truth about Violetta's love and why she left. She is dying of tuberculosis, but when Alfredo enters her sickroom, they ecstatically plan to leave Paris and make a new life on their own. With one last gush of vitality, she feels a resurgence of strength and gets up to join Alfredo....only to fall dead at his feet.
Now honestly, as far as the story goes, we might as well just change the names to the Duke, Setine, and Christian and call the thing Moulin Rouge. As for music, there is an appropriate variation based on the century and a half between the two productions. And yet, Verdi's music is gorgeous and melodic and since rewatching the opening drinking song when I woke up this morning, I keep humming it to myself. I've seen the particular version that I linked to, and remember it being quite good.
Anyway, the point of this post is that many people view opera as elite and unreachable--from a different world, so to speak. But in the 19th century, opera was the entertainment of the masses, and our current entertainment draws heavily from the foundation that opera built. If you try it sometime, you may be surprised how much you like it and how similar it seems to more modern entertainment. And if you'd rather watch a more comic opera, I'd recommend the Barber of Seville by Rossini. It's one of my favorites.