Verdi’s La Traviata tells the story of forsaken love, deep regret and an eventual effort to set it all straight. It is not an unusual story and doesn’t lend itself to scenes of much action, but the humanity in Verdi’s leading characters keeps audiences hooked.
The story opens at a party at Violetta’s house in Paris. There is much reveling and all the guests seem quite pleased with the pleasure-driven lifestyle they lead. Alfredo Germont is a friend of one of the guests. He eventually professes his undying love for the party’s host. Alfredo’s toast to love is perhaps one of the most well-known scores in La Traviata. It has been used in countless movies, shows and sound recordings of opera – but to hear it performed live makes one appreciate this timeless classic on a whole new level.
Violetta turns her suitor away, saying she could never love him in return. She is flattered by Alfredo’s advances and yet feels bound to her life of pleasure and parties in Paris.
By the second act, Violetta has come around and is living with Alfredo in a house in the country. She is now desperately in love with him and would give anything in the world to continue living with him. At this stage , Alfredo’s father makes his entrance. He implores Violetta to leave his son, claiming she has spent his fortune and brought shame upon the Germont family name.
After much persuasion, Violetta agrees to abandon her lover for the sake of his family’s reputation. She writes a letter to Alfredo and leaves the house immediately. Alfredo, upon reading the letter, is infuriated and assumes Violetta has betrayed him of her own free will.
As can be expected, a great deal of miscommunication follows. Violetta is devastated to have been forced to leave the one true love of her life. Alfredo feels he has been heartlessly abandoned by the only woman he ever loved so completely.
What makes the telling of this story interesting is the emotional change Verdi’s characters must go through. Violetta starts off as a party-loving free spirit; she then takes on the emotional weight of having to choose between love and duty. Alfredo starts out professing his love with the freedom and excitement love allows; he then displays the emotional damage and anger of one scorned by a lover.
Both Yali-Marie Williams (as Violetta) and Dimitri Pittas (as Alfredo) manage to follow their characters’ tumultuous journeys. They both make the difficult transition from pleasure to pain. They are as honest about their torturous heartbreaks as they are about their initial discovery of love.
In addition to feeling the pain of her torn love affair, Violetta is also physically ill. The emotional turmoil becomes too much for her body to handle and she is left bed-ridden in the final act. By this time, Alfredo’s father has told him what happened and the young lover is on his way to re-unite with his beloved mistress. The union, however, happens too late for Violetta. Although she is overjoyed to have Alfredo back in her arms, she is unable to fight the illness that eventually robs her of her last breath.
Williams plays her death scene with incredible grace and honesty. Before Alfredo arrives, she reads out a letter received from his father telling her his son will be with her soon. Her reading of the letter stands out as a rare moment of speaking, rather than singing, her character’s lines. Williams’ reading captures the emotional strength as well as the physical weakness her character feels at the time. It is clear through Williams ‘s tone and movements that Violetta is in a state of terrible conflict between her heart, body and soul.
This genuine display of emotion makes La Traviata a pleasure to watch. The story, in fact, is timeless and the characters are recognizable even today. Exterior pressures still force happy couples apart in a number of cultures and social groups. The ability of true love to survive can sometimes be cruelly impeded. As human beings we naturally want love to prevail. We care about Violetta and Alfredo and are deeply moved by the tragic outcome of their once happy story of love.
La Traviata plays at Place Des Arts, Salle Wilfrid Pelleiter till Nov. 18th.
Tickets from $41.51.