La Traviata, or Tuberculosis kills

Tonight I had the privilege of seeing my first live opera. I have long been a fan of the operatic format. I have various playlists of operatic operas and have watched numerous performances at the Metropolitan Opera on PBS. Seeing one in person was very exciting. It was held at the Omaha Orpheum, a lovely building.

The opera I saw was put on by Opera Omaha. They are putting on an additional two shows this season, including Mozart‘s famous “Magic Flute” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” by Bela Bartok. (If anybody needs a gift idea for me, buy me tickets. They start as low as $19 a person!) It was fabulous.

La Traviata is an opera by Gisueppe Verdi, based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils. It is set in Paris and the surrounding area. The opera is in Italian. My Italian is a little rusty, but luckily there were subtitles projected on a screen.

I will not waste space here telling you about the entire opera. If you wish to read the entire synopsis, try here. A very brief summary- a French courtesean, Violetta Valery, falls deeply in love with a man named Alfredo Germont. They are in love, yet they separate. Very tragic. They then get back together, and Violetta dies of tuberculosis in Alfredo’s arms. Even more tragic.

The production was three hours long- very fitting since it was three acts long. While reading the words got a little tiresome, it was a very enjoyable experience. I highly recommend the opera to anybody. (Especially someone who wants to go with me to the other two this season!)

I really appreciate the amount of culture Omaha has. It is easy to discount it as another Nebraskan town surrounded by cornfields. That is completely false. This was a grade-A production and I am proud to say that it came from Omaha.

The director, James de Blasis, wrote in his notes included in the program, “La Triviata is the musical depiction of the inner struggle of one who is not always to be admired but always to be pitied.” In this sense, pity is not ‘woe is me,’ but rather pity of the duty to do the right thing.

In my rather unfounded analysis of this work, I think it is more about the uncertainty of life. The audience knows that Violetta and Alfredo belong together and that in a fair and just society they would live happily ever after. However, this does not happen. After numerous twists and turns, including a false love confession and a rude confrontation at a masquerade ball, fate seems to finally bring them together. Violetta receives her last rites right before Alfredo comes. She miraculously recovers, only to die a few seconds later. If they would have kept their pride in check, they could have had more time together. The entire thing is very ‘West Side Story’-esque, which I obviously love.

Some highlights from the score, which is mainly a waltz tempo:

  • Libiamo ne’ lieti calici is one of the most famous songs from this work. It is a drinking song. A translation can be found here and a clip of the song can be found here.
  • Sempre Libera is sung by Violetta at the end of Act I. In it she wrestles with her decision to stay in her high and fancy life or leave it to be with Alfredo, her true love. At the end, she sums up a universal truth of life by singing “Oh! Love! Madness! Euphoria!” A video clip is here and a translation is here.
  • My favorite piece came at the end of Act III when Alfredo comes to visit Violetta on her death bed. He promises her that they will leave Paris and live their lives out together somewhere else. I couldn’t find a complete translation, but Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo means “We will leave Paris, O Beloved.” A wonderful clip of Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland singing the duet can be found here.

Bottom line- Opera is great. If you ever feel like your life is in shambles, just go see a tragic opera.

Also, Pavarotti once received a record 17 curtain calls. How cool is that?




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