La traviata

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La traviata is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. It is based on La dame aux Camélias (1852), a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The title "La traviata" means literally The Woman Gone Astray, or perhaps more figuratively, The Fallen Woman. It was originally entitled Violetta, after the main character.

Piave and Verdi wanted to follow Dumas in giving the opera a contemporary setting, but the authorities at La Fenice insisted that it be set in the past, "c. 1700". It was not until the 1880s that the composer and librettist's original wishes were carried out and "realistic" productions were staged.[1]

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Performance history

The first performance of the opera, on 6 March 1853 in Venice's La Fenice, was an utter failure. The day after, Verdi wrote to his friend Muzio in what has now become perhaps his most famous letter: "La Traviata last night a failure. My fault or the singers'? Time will tell." This letter not only implies what Verdi already knew—that the singers, particularly the obese soprano who could never convincingly play a dying consumptive, had failed to "understand his music."[2] But more importantly, this letter captures Verdi's faith that the public ultimately knows what is and is not good art and will pronounce its judgment in good time.

After some revisions between 1853 and May 1854, mostly affecting Acts 2 and 3, the opera was presented again in Venice, this time at the Teatro San Benedetto. This performance was a critical success, largely due to Maria Spezia-Aldighieri's portrayal of Violetta.

On 24 May 1856 the revised version was presented at Her Majesty's Theatre in London followed on 3 December of that year by its premiere in New York.

Today, the opera has become immensely popular and it is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire. It is third on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America,[3] behind only Madama Butterfly and La bohème.

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