An image of the fallen woman (this is how the title of the opera is translated) with a noble heart grew extremely popular in the nineteenth century. The theme of the splendor and miseries of courtesans, besides the novel of Honore de Balzac with the same title, was touched upon by Joseph Eugene Sue in his novel The Mysteries of Paris and by Vsevolod Krestovsky in his novel Slums of St Petersburg. The Characters of those novels have their literary sisters and heirs represented by Dostoevsky’s Sonya Marmeladova, Zhenka from Kuprin’s story The Pit, and Katyusha Maslova from Tolstoy’s Resurrection. In 1848 Verdi was a witness of a scandalous success of the autobiographical novel of Alexandre Dumas, fils, La Dame aux Camelias (The Lady of the Camellias). Dumas told his own story of passion for Marie Duplessis, a famous woman of demimonde (in the book she appears under the name of Marguerite Gauthier). She died of tuberculosis in young age. The book turned out to be so popular that the word camellia soon became a common noun to mark a kept-woman. The opening of Verdi’s opera that was based on the novel’s plot, did not avoid a scandal either. However the unfavorable reaction of the audience was provoked not so much by the story and music but by the performers. Otherwise would it be possible to explain why a bit later La traviata was triumphantly performed in the largest opera theatres, and today it is in the top 10 operas of the world opera repertoire?
The music of Verdi’s opera is saturated with the element of waltz that reigned in European salons of the nineteenth century. This atmosphere was precisely captured in Pushkin’s poetry, “Both dull and yet so flaky just like a twirl of youthful life, the noisy waltzing twirl so swiftly goes around, a coupe after couple is darting by.” A short and bright life of the courtesan Violetta flies by very quickly in that chase for pleasures, just like that twirl of waltz. The waltz for that time is more than a dance. Its emergence made a real revolution. It replaced the arrogant minuet of the previous historic period when dance partners cold only touch tips of their fingers. When the waltz came it immediately gained a reputation of ‘a devil’s dance’ and became a symbol of seduction. Its moves were considered inappropriate because the man was supposed to embrace the woman and hold her like that in front of other people. However it did not stop the waltz from spreading like epidemics and reaching the highest circles of the society.
La traviata is truly an opera-portrait of Violetta. The character of her lover Alfred and his father Giorgio Germont really reveal themselves only by being around her. The role of Violetta is really a part for a Prima Donna and they always stage this opera having in mind a leading soprano in the company. La traviata at the the Primorsky Stage was brought from the historic Mariinsky Theatre Stage. It was produced by the French team with their director Charles Roubaud invited by Valery Gergiev. It is a spectacular show with silver and golden scenery built according to historic designs, using miles of silk and velvet fabric to make luxurious costumes. It was staged in 2002 and the leading role was to be sung by the world famous opera star Anna Netrebko.