22nd February, 2014
‘One day I’m going to make the world do her (La Traviata) honour. But not a Naples where your priests would be terrified of seeing on stage the sort of things they do themselves at night on the quiet.’ Giuseppe Verdi
To understand the full impact of Verdi’s words, we can appreciate initially that the literal translation of the title of the opera is ‘the woman led astray’. There are two sources of inspiration here: one is from Verdi’s relationship with his own wife (formerly an unmarried mother and opera singer);the other is that the role of Violetta was originally based on the real-life courtesan Marie Duplessis, who, as Marguerite Gautier, was the subject of Alexandre Dumas’novel and play, La Dame aux Camélias. The significance of the name ‘Camille’ and the flower itself, relates to the white camellia which the original Marguerite Gautier would wear to show her availability and also to the red camellia worn on those days when she was unavailable. Each of these reinterpretations of La traviata figuratively adds to the sense of Violetta as a ‘fallen woman’.
Now all this would predicate an emotionally calibrated evening. Certainly, the original title, ‘Amore e morte’ suggests this, even more since it had to be changed and the time set back to the 1700s rather than the 1900s. Verdi strongly objected, but the patriarchal/Christian censors did not want the lascivious goings-on in the story to be seen as a reflection of contemporary life. That a courtesan with questionable morals might be a likeable operatic heroine was a radical notion for its time. Continue reading La Traviata