Conductor, La Traviata
You can view an English translation of La Traviata to follow along with the excerpts. At the opera, we’ll have English supertitles above the stage.
Banda music (literally wind-instruments playing music from somewhere else) announce a dance. Alfredo, concerned about Violetta’s health, stays behind to confront her, then to confess his love in “Un di felice.” This is one of many of Verdi’s three-quarter time (sometimes 6/8 time), slow “oom-plick-plick” pieces. It’s a fun game to see how many of these can be cited and from which operas; there are many, to be sure, but no opera has more than La traviata.
This particular “oom-plick-plick” piece is made more special by the tune Alfredo sings, “Di quell’amor.”
The tune is emblematic of his love for Violetta and is repeated at several important moments in the opera, sometimes sung (Violetta sings it later in this act, recalling) and sometimes as underscoring in the orchestra. Violetta’s rejoinder in this duet, despite the “oom-plick-plick” underneath, couldn’t be more different: there is daring fioratura (ornamented or “flowered” music) to suggest he flee from her and that only friendship is possible.
LISTEN: Un di felice—Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti (“Di quell’amor” is heard at 0:49; the fioratura begins at 1:34.)
In the stretta (refers to the closing of a scene, where music tightens up and usually gets faster) of Act I, the ensemble chatters about dawn ensuing and other parties to attend. (This music is very difficult for a chorus to enunciate this fast without rushing ahead of the orchestra! Left alone, Violetta now sings perhaps the most famous (and fearsome) of all soprano scenes in the repertoire. Called a “double-aria”, the first half of which is slow (“Ah, fors’e lui”) and the second half of which is fiendishly and recklessly difficult (“Sempre libera”), it requires every available tool in a soprano’s toolbox. The slow aria has a reiteration of Alfredo’s earlier line “Di quell’amor;” that emblem, sung in exactly the same manner, even in the same key, and at the end, a cadenza, very delicate and moving at the same time. Then, instantaneously, her mind suddenly changed, she launches into “always free;” music that is desperate, irresponsible and, at the same time, determined; music that characterizes the other side of Violetta.
LISTEN: Ah, fors’e lui/Sempre libera – Renata Tebaldi (The latter begins at 5:00.)
Stay tuned for future blog posts of what to listen for in the other acts of La Traviata - or download our Opera Insider today for the full article and more insider information on the entire 2015 Festival.