Peabody Opera Theatre presents

La traviata

by Giuseppe Verdi

libretto by Francesco Maria Piave

after the play La dame aux camélias
by Alexandre Dumas, fils

Peabody Concert Orchestra

Hajime Teri Murai, music director

Garnett Bruce, stage director

Luke Hegel-Cantarella, production designer

Douglas Nelson, lighting designer

Eileen Cornett, musical preparation

Production sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Allan D. Jensen
Wednesday–Saturday March 11–14 2009, at 7:30 PM
Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall
Peabody Conservatory of Music
1 East Mt. Vernon Place
Baltimore, Maryland
Admission $25 / Seniors $15 / Students with ID $10
Box Office: 410/659-8100 x4415, or book online

Photographs        Review        Peabody Opera home

  Alexandre Dumas fils
Sculpture study by Carpeaux
Alexandre Dumas
Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata took a social question to heart when Verdi brought it to the stage in 1853. How could a woman whom so many professed to love be left to die utterly alone? Based on a contemporary best-seller La dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, it chronicled the life of one of Paris’ most celebrated courtesans. Opening night audiences bristled at having such a brutal story thrust on them and the premiere at Venice was a failure, closing after ten performances. However, within a year, the music triumphed and the opera has been among Verdi’s most popular ever since.

Marie Duplessis, the original
Dame aux Camelias  
Marie Duplessis
The courtesan Marie Duplessis died of con­sump­tion in 1847, at the age of 23. Alex­andre Dumas tells her story from his own experi­ences with her, and through her final let­ters to him, letters he received after she had died. Cer­tainly fiction­al­ized, it is both a tri­bute to the nobil­ity of Made­moiselle Duplessis and a damning social com­men­tary. The names of various counts and titled nobil­ity are loosely alluded to, with aster­isks and initials through­out the text. Marie Duplessis becomes Marguerite Gautier, and Alexandre Dumas becomes Armand Duval. Dumas concludes his novel:

I do not draw the conclusion that all women of Marguerite’s sort are capable of behaving as she did. Far from it. But I have learned that one such woman, once in her life, experienced deep love, that she suffered for it and that she died of it. I have told the reader what I learned. It was a duty. I am not an advocate of vice, but I shall always be a sounding board for any noble heart in adversity wherever I hear its voice raised in prayer.

[Trans: D. Coward, 1986.]

Giuseppina Strepponi  
Giuseppina Strepponi
Between 1848 and 1850, Verdi, whose wife and children had died some years earlier, was living in Paris with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi. Although theirs would become a life-long relationship, Strepponi often met with the scorn and cruel gossip of French society. So perhaps there was a personal resonance to Verdi’s choice of the Dumas play for La traviata in 1853. He had already turned to another French drama, Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse, for Rigoletto in 1851. Between the two came a Spanish subject, Il trovatore, which had a successful premiere in Rome. These three works (which scholars now refer to as “middle Verdi”) mark the transition in his life, his compositional style, his popularity, and ultimately, his career.

  Violetta, La Scala 1855. 
Note the non-contemporary costume!
Violetta, Milan 1855
For La traviata, Verdi and his librettist Francesco Maria Piave further adapted the Dumas story. The noble courtesan becomes Violetta Valéry, her ardent young lover is now Alfredo Germont, and the time of their love affair is compressed into a few short months. Most significantly, Alfredo returns to join Violetta before she dies, allowing a reunion, a confession, and witnesses to her untimely demise.

Many singers have commented that Verdi demands three different vocal approaches for Violetta: the shimmering bel-canto coloratura for Act I, an honest dramatic approach for Act II, and ultimately a heart-breaking lyricism for Act III. We have the unique opportunity at Peabody to feature a different soprano for each of these acts — allowing more students the opportunities to study and perform this role, as well as protecting young voices from exhaustion at the naissance of their careers. I find the dramatic subject matter and the shrewd vocal writing an excellent test of talent for singers in their mid-twenties. Now, we have the time to help each student scale a vocal masterpiece over the course of a long process, monitored and mentored by our faculty, allowing significant orchestral rehearsal time for a cornerstone of the standard operatic repertory.

Giuseppe Verdi, around 
the time of LA TRAVIATA  
Giuseppe Verdi
With three sopranos, a conceptual approach to our production emerged. Working with designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella, we noticed the objectification of Violetta from the three central male figures in her life: Baron Douphol, Alfredo Germont, and his father Giorgio. Each of these men sees something different in Violetta’s character, in some ways stifling her liberty for their own needs. This is reflected in Hegel-Cantarella’s set, which is both a Parisian drawing room and a gilded cage which frames and defines the action. Our central character now has three separate faces allowing comparisons and interactions at key moments in the score, occasionally with three Violettas on stage at the same time. Through costumes, we have sought to simplify and focus the palette, keeping our principals in period dress, and the others in basic modern attire, thus linking past and present.

Views of the set model by Luke Hegel-Cantarella
Set design by Luke Hegel-Cantarella

Act I Violetta is the life of the party, a party paid for by Baron Douphol. He has covered all her expenses: the lavish apartment, her coaches, her servants, her doctor. He has showered her with the finest jewels, the finest clothes, putting her very much on display for Parisian society. On display, down to her signature accessory, the white camellia she wears, winter or summer, as the sign of her readiness for love. Alfredo, however, recognizes the angel within. Perhaps his naiveté is to blame, but it is more than that: two honest souls connecting on a level different from the world that the courtesan has known.

Set design by Luke Hegel-Cantarella

By Act II, Violetta is transformed into a joyful, almost angelic figure; Alfredo calls their country home a Heaven on earth. While Alfredo is out, his father Giorgio Germont interrupts Violetta’s idyllic vacation from Parisian society to demand that this stain on the family name (his son living out of wedlock with a notorious courtesan) be purged. Violetta sacrifices her happiness by agreeing to abandon Alfredo for the good of his family. But Alfredo knows nothing of Violetta’s agreement, and subjects her to a public humiliation so contemptible that Parisian society rises to defend her, if only briefly.

Set design by Luke Hegel-Cantarella

By Act III, on the last day of her life, Violetta has been defeated by her illness. She is indeed sola e abbandonata (alone and abandoned) — a phrase borrowed from Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut. Violetta uses those words in mock tragedy in Act I. But in the face of that ultimate penalty for her sins — an anonymous death — Violetta rises from her illness to accept herself, her fate, and her life. In this context, the fierce father figure in Giorgio Germont at last comes to understand her nobility, and the true love he denied her by demanding the end of her relationship with Alfredo.

Opera is an art of extreme emotion. Verdi’s emotional landscape is as vivid, as honest, as pure as any score of the Nineteenth Century, placing us on the bridge between bel canto at the start of the century and verismo at the end of it. He captivates his audience by framing the glaring injustice and hypocrisy of his era between personal and public — delicate melody and stirring drama. At the prelude, he begins with the faintest glimmer of pianissimo, forcing his listener to work even to hear the first theme, Alfredo’s “Di quell’ amor.” At the end of Violetta’s Act III aria, Verdi writes for un fil di voce (a thread of voice) — an effect that almost seems to transport Violetta into the realm of the ethereal. These extreme silences are balanced by great climaxes of dramatic singing as well. Emotional intensity builds and bursts, and, in the best Romantic traditions, even gallops with a fervor that lifts the notes off the page and sears them into our memories. But now it is not the applause-stirring moment that matters so much as the dramatic idea; Verdi often directs us to take the moment to reflect, in the silence that composer and performer both create. Verdi has designed La traviata to seduce with its personal tragedy, while challenging prevailing social injustice with a drama of operatic proportions.

— Garnett Bruce.

Principal Singers

* Cast performing Wednesday 11 and Friday 13 March
** Cast performing Thursday 12 and Saturday 14 March
Pausing the cursor over singers’ names will show some previous roles

Violetta Valéry I ** Eun Hae Cho
* Jennifer Holbrook
Violetta Valéry II * Beth Stewart
** Katherine Woodward
Violetta Valéry III * Eun Hae Ju
** Jihee Kim
Flora Bervoix ** Elizabeth Dow
* Yoonjee Ha
Annina ** Yun Kyong Lee
* Diane Schaming
Alfredo Germont * William Davenport
** Raymond Diaz
Giorgio Germont * Eun Seo Koo
** Doug Peters
Gastone, Vicomte de Letorières * David Kirkwood
** Ben Shaver
Baron Douphol ** Jeremy Osborne
* William Schaller
Marquis d'Obigny ** Byong Gak Jeon
* Jeffrey Williams
Doctor Grenvil * Benjamin Moore
** Peter Tomaszewski