October 28 &
Traviata Synopsis 2
Narrative in a nutshell
Violetta, a courtesan, falls in love with
Alfredo, whose father forbids their
relationship. She sacrifices her love, but the
loss is too great for her and she dies.
If you have access to CD's of La Traviata,
perhaps you will enjoy reading the following
guide, while you listen. Each title below is
used as a guide to paint the scene's action of
the major musical numbers.
Curtain: This eerie orchestral opener sets the
scene for the emotional work of the opera. It is
a miracle of Verdi's genius that he conjures up
the tragedy of a love haunted by illness and
sacrifice before anyone even sets foot on stage.
Across a crowded room: It's 1850, and we are in
a world of champagne corks, crinolines and
courtesans. In this fast-paced opening scene we
hear the young and beautiful Violetta Valery
(soprano) chatting with some friends who are
mostly unimportant to the plot. She has recently
recovered from an attack of tuberculosis, and is
now giving a party. She is introduced to an
admirer, Alfredo Germont (tenor). At first
Alfredo is tongue-tied and shy, but a friend
persuades him to perform a drinking song (in
Italian called a brindisi) to entertain the
Brindisi- Let the flirting commence: This is the
first big number of the opera, and one of its
greatest hits. Alfredo tried to impress Violetta
by toasting the pleasures of love and she teases
him by saluting the pleasures of fickleness.
The spectre at the feast: Our hero and heroine
begin to chat while the rest of the party is
dancing in the background. (Verdi uses an
offstage orchestra to achieve this effect.)
Violetta trembles and stumbles, and Alfredo
realizes she is still ill.
Torment and delight: Alfredo wants to look after
Violetta, and sings his big 'love theme' (Di
quell'amor)--the tune which is to haunt her for
the rest of her short operatic life. He says his
love for he has been the torment and delight of
his heart. Violetta is consumed and laughs at
him, but also asked him to return later. The
rest of the party say goodbye.
Is the lady for turning?: One of the most famous
arias ever written for soprano. Alone, Violetta
wonders whether she is capable of feeling love.
After she has sung Alfredo's love theme she
decides she must always remain free to flit from
pleasure to pleasure. But Alfredo is outside her
window, singing his love song again...
Act Two (part one)
The good life: We are in the country house near
Paris, and Alfredo tells us that he has been
living with Violetta for three months.
Everything has a price: Alfredo is full of
joy--but Violetta's servant, Annina (soprano),
tells him that her mistress has had to sell many
of her possessions to support them.
A fly in the ointment: Alfredo is tormented by
guilt at her sacrifice, and leaves to go to
Paris to get money. Violetta enters, and is
confronted by Giorgio Germont, Alfredo's father
(baritone). He mostly sings lugubrious, weighty
tunes. She guesses what he is going to ask.
Torn in two: Germont tells Violetta that Alfredo
has a sister "pure as an angel" whose intended
marriage is threatened by her brother's
connection with a courtesan. In an agitated,
passionate scene, Violetta decides--for
Alfredo's own good--that she must leave him.
Sacrifice: Violetta senses that the sacrifice
will kill her, and begs Germont (and his
daughter) to remember her kindly.
A lover's farewell: Alfredo returns, and fins
Violetta confused and weepy. She assures him of
her love, and then leaves without explaining her
real intentions. A moment later, a servant
brings him a letter from her, and he explodes in
The generation gap: Germont returns to the
house, and attempts to console his own with
platitudinous memories of childhood happiness.
Alfredo brushes him off.
Revenge!: Germont tries again, but Alfredo isn't
even listening. Instead he rushes off to find
Violetta in Paris.
Act Two (part two)
Party time!: A friend of Violetta's, Flora
Bervoix (mezzo-soprano), is giving a party for
the same old crowd from Act One. Some of the
female guests perform a gypsy song, and then the
men sing a bull-fighting number.
The game of cards: A scene of great tension,
pregnant with foreboding and doom. Alfredo
arrives at the party, shortly followed by
Violetta, now back with her old flame Baron
Douphol (baritone). The Baron is jealous and
challenges Alfredo to a game of cards, which
Alfredo wins. Violetta calls him over to warn
him of the Baron's jealous and violent temper.
He can't bear her concern, and in front of the
rest of the party goers, throws money at her
feet as payment for her sexual favors. The
Chorus scream their condemnation of his insult.
Fatal misunderstandings: In a powerful end to
the scene, Germont enters and reproves his son.
Alfredo immediately feels terrible for what he
has done, the chorus sympathizes with Violetta,
and she soars above everything, singing of the
love she has promised to renounce.
The end is near: The haunting music of the
prelude is reprised, and paints a scene of
pathos and suffering. Violetta is on her
deathbed, attend by Annina. Doctor Grenvil
(bass) comes to visit her but knows she only has
hours to live.
Too little, too late!: Over the 'love theme',
Violetta recites out a letter from Germont.
Alfredo has fought a duel with the Baron, who is
recovering, and he know knows the truth about
Violetta's sacrifice. Alfredo and Germont are
both coming to see her, and ask for her pardon.
In the most hear-rending moment of the opera,
she cries out "E' tardi" (it's too late!) and
launches into another famous aria, in which she
says goodbye to her life.
Life goes on: Violetta listens as a carnival
passes by outside.
Reunited: Alfredo arrives, and they reaffirm
A fresh start: Alfredo sings of his hopes for a
new life for them outside of Paris. Violetta
begins to hope she may recover, but soon
realizes she is too close to death and, over
shuddering, pulsing string chords, cries out
that she is too young to die.
A dying wish: Germont arrives, full of remorse.
Violetta begs to be remembered kindly. Suddenly
her pain disappears and her energy returns. She
stands up--and for one ecstatic moment she
believes she is well again--and then falls dead
to the floor.