Performed in the original Italian with Czech surtitles
Dumas’ novel The Lady of the Camellias took Verdi’s breath away. He knew the location well – Paris, a city full of bustle, had never been his favourite and this tragic tale reminded him also of his own experience. In 1847 after some time he met again with his friend and the interpreter of his early works, the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi. They became close and their deep bond lasted until the end of her life. For years they cohabited and Verdi experienced for himself society’s opposition to “illegal” relationships. They were forced to live in seclusion in his manor at Sant’ Agata. His personal experience undoubtedly intensified his understanding and sympathy for the heroine, which permeates the whole opera… Probably none of those attending the Venetian premiere, which was a destructive fiasco, could have believed that they had witnessed the birth of one of the most popular and most performed Italian operas. Verdi always sought for his operas works with a dramatic plot and special characters and these were certainly present in Dumas’ work. Clear and moving lyrical music, which in Italian bel canto closely combined with dramatic expression, led to the creation of a timeless opera. The classical production offers a remarkable perspective on the life of a woman on the edges of society.
Janáček Opera Ensemble and Orchestra of the National Theatre Brno
Premiere 26th October 2001, Janáček Theatre
Guests are gathering in the parlour of the renowned Parisian courtesan, Violetta. Gastone introduces his guest Alfredo Germont, who is a great admirer of Violetta. At first she refuses the young man’s love, pointing out her changeable and dissolute way of life. The sincerity and strength of Alfredo’s love eventually convinces her that it would be possible to fulfil her dream of true happiness with him.
Violetta and Alfredo spend many happy days together in the countryside near Paris. This way of life is expensive, however, and Violetta is forced to secretly pawn her jewellery in order to cover their debts. When Alfredo discovers her financial situation, he travels to Paris in order to settle matters. In Alfredo’s absence, his father visits Violetta. He reproaches her for threatening Alfredo’s future and the good reputation of his family. Violetta, however, convinces him of her love and pure intentions, but despite his sympathy for this girl who confesses that she is dying from consumption and that Alfredo is her final source of happiness, Germont remains steadfast. Violetta must renounce her love, otherwise she would threaten the happiness of his daughter whose fiancé would leave her should Alfredo continue to besmirch the family by co-habiting with a courtesan. Violetta promises to undergo this sacrifice. She leaves a letter for Alfredo and departs for Paris. Alfredo is in despair and disregards the requests by his father to return home with him; his thoughts are overcome with a desire for revenge, for he believes that Violetta has left him for another, and he rushes to confront her.
Scene – change
At Flora’s house a merry party is under way. Violetta arrives accompanied by Baron Douphol. Also present is Alfredo, who challenges the Baron to a game of cards, but loses. Violetta is afraid for his safety and requests him to leave. Alfredo however wants to gain one piece of information from her: does she love the Baron? True to her promise that she had made to Germont, she replies that she does. In front of all the assembled guests, the insulted Alfredo throws his winnings at her feet, denouncing his love for her. Such behaviour insults all those present, including Germont who follows his son to Paris, as he is afraid for him.
Violetta is at her wits’ end; her illness has returned, her friends have abandoned her, and she is without money. Her only solace is a letter from Germont, from which she has discovered that he had informed Alfredo of her sacrifice. Alfredo had injured the Baron in a duel, and had been forced to leave the country. He promised to return soon, however, and this thought returned her will to live, but it is too late.