Continuing my foray into the world of opera, thanks to the New York Metropolitan Opera company generously providing free streaming of its past livestreams during the time they are shut down due to the pandemic, I watched the fourth in the series and it was magnificent. There is no other word for it. I was simply blown away by the performance.
Unlike the other three operas I watched, the story in La Traviata is simple, as was the set that consisted of just a bed, a piano, a writing desk, and a couple of chairs. A change of backdrop and lighting between the acts shifted that same arrangement between a ballroom in Paris and a boudoir in a country home. There were just three principal singers, the courtesan Violetta, her lover Alfredo, and his father Giorgio. They sang pretty much everything, with the others in the cast appearing mostly during two party scenes and joining in the chorus. The singing and acting of these three were powerful and so moving that it choked me up on several occasions.
I have said that some opera arias are familiar to me even though I do not know where they come from. To my surprise and delight, during the first act my favorite aria of all was sung, the one that begins with Alfredo toasting Violetta. Now that I knew its origins, I could find it online and you too can see it in the clip below, which luckily is from the very same production I watched last night, so you get to see two of the principals and the set. It is beautiful. I have already watched and listened to it multiple times and I am sure to do so many times again in the future. I have also been humming it all day, it is so catchy.
It struck me how important first impressions are. I mentioned in an earlier post that my first experience with opera was as a young man seeing a live performance of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and it left me unimpressed and as a result I did not really seek out chances to watch any more operas. If I had happened to see La Traviata instead, who knows, I might have become an opera fan a long time ago. So my advice to people who are curious about opera is to check out this opera first if they can.
I think I will skip the next two operas (Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment and Lucia di Lammermoor) because I have never heard of them, unless some of this blog’s readers (whom I have to come to learn know a hell of a lot about operas) strongly recommend either one. I do plan to watch Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin on Sunday. Starting Monday, it will be seven straight days of Wagner that I think I will also pass on. I understand that Wagner is a giant in the opera world but his stuff is challenging and it might be of the kind that one has to slowly work one’s way up to with other operas before one can fully appreciate it.
It also occurred to me that the composer Verdi was Italian, the opera is sung in Italian, the main characters’ names are mostly Italian but for some reason he chose to set it in Paris. Does anyone know why this might be? One possibility is that the opera is based on a play by Alexandre Dumas that was itself based on his novel that was situated in France. But that seems like a weak argument since opera composers do not seem to worry much about the story itself. A more likely possibility is that the world that this opera portrays, that of courtesans who run salons and throw lavish balls and other soirees that the elite attend, was peculiar to France and Paris in particular, and would not have been possible in Italy. I am just guessing though, and those who know more may wish to chime in.