Thursday, April 12, 2012

La Traviata - Opera of Operas

There are a handful of operas that define the genre. Their time period is irrelevant, their themes go to the very heart of the human condition.They are most importantly marked by the democracy of their relation to the public.The usual distinctions, high and low, serious and comic, popular or specialized, near or far from us in time, manner or society dissolve. We live with them daily without our knowing it. They are the very musical air we breath. They exist in the opera house, on the the concert stage (without scenery), in the recital hall (as excerpts, arranged for piano), in the elevator, on the radio, in the lightest cartoons and the darkest dramas and yes in the shower. The aged remember them nostalgically in good, best and better performances; the casual listener usually remarking after hearing the tiniest fragment from the work remark (ironically) " I don't really like opera,but ..."  (that's what you think!) Children ask,  "What is that song ?"
A short list of such operas might read : The Magic Flute, Die Walkure, Norma, Der Rosenkavalier, Eugene Onegin, Carmen, Aida, Turandot and ... and whatever you like; the only opera you can't leave off the list is Verdi's La Traviata.
The theme beyond that of the nineteenth century "fallen woman" with or without a heart of gold is more generally the outsider and how love and the outsider collide with society. We see refracted in the drama that follows the most laughable of human foibles and our highest aspirations. Normally society will not yield and love will not be denied - Mayhem, laughter, pathos and sometimes real musical transcendence follow. Men risk head and heart for Turandot, the youths of the Magic Flute move through the threat of death to their goal of light, led by love; Brunnhilde and Siegfried will risk the end of the world and the wrath of the gods; Octavian and the Marschallin race against time and social convention and on it goes. 
Verdi sets his trial by fire and search for truth in the morally ambiguous world of a nineteenth century Paris drawing room.There are more fallen women and intoxicated and feverish men than you can count. In this seemingly frivolous and sometimes cruel world two completely unlikely people fall hopelessly in love and the walls of polite society and economic necessity are raised powerfully against them. Pleas, objections, doubts, deceit and lies all try to separate Violetta Valery from Alfred Germont. Finally the last card is played by a father (Giorgio Germont) in despair for both his son and daughters future; the need for sacrifice from a woman that however well intended just doesn't deserve love. In the process of longing, loss and rediscovery and final triumph some of Verdi's greatest and most popular music flows in an unstoppable torrent. From the first notes of the vibrant overture through the Brindisi; then E strano, Sempre Libera, Lunge da lei per me and most famously a father's pleading:
                              Piangi, piangi o misera. Supremo, il veggo
                                  E il sacrifizio - che ora ti chieggo...
                                      Weep, weep, poor girl, I see now
                                         That the sacrificeI ask could not be greater....
                                              Be brave your noble heart will conquer all. 

Truer words than Germont senor realizes. She is faithful to his happiness through rejection, humiliation and near death. Finally she wins them all over, but too late. The throbbing, pathetic, halting third act prelude - one of the towering achievements of all music says it all before the characters utter a word of the doomed ending in the shuttered Parisian room where she coughs herself to death. Violetta, like a bird locked in her cage unable to breath and her opponents realizing that they have all been wrong and she was right and in the end only a woman. Her nobility of sacrifice casts them all into the shade. Verdi should know, he lived with his second wife for years before they finally married to a scandalized Italian society - the man knew of what he spoke. La Traviata is every lost opportunity, every test to what we are and our willingness to demand truth over all appearance. Who is up to the challenge, to go this far to win happiness? These are the great questions of life  framed in a powerful drama to unforgettable music. As Richard Gere's wealthy playboy tells the street wise Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she says, "I've never been to the opera" after he tells her as they fly by private plane to see this one. He explains, " It doesn't matter, you'll understand this." And you will too.
Please tune in this Saturday at noon for the Metropolitan Opera's presentation of Verdi's La Traviata, here on KPAC and KTXI. 
by Ron Moore

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for playing my music!!
Elisenda Fábregas