I watched La Traviata by the Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, which is an opera in three acts. It is based on Alexandre Dumas’ 1852 play The Lady with the Camellias, and the play itself was adapted from Dumas’ 1842 novel of the same name by the author himself. The libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave.
The opera is about the passionate and tragic love between Violetta, a well-known courtesan, and Alfredo, a young bourgeois from a reputable family. Vacillating between the desire to preserve her freedom and following true love, Violetta eventually falls in love with Alfredo, and they start to live together. As the story unfolds, we witness the pain Violetta endures since she is asked to part from Alfredo by his father due to her bad reputation as a courtesan. The opera belongs to the Romantic period, and it masterfully reflects the sentiments and themes of the period with its high dramaticism, which are expressivity, unhappy lovers, and longing.
Among the other options that were on my to-watch list, I chose to watch an opera instead of a concert because I wanted to experience something different than what I normally do. Growing up as a pianist, composer, and chorist, I have been to countless classical music concerts since my childhood, and I have always left those concerts with a big smile on my face. On the contrary, whenever my mother took me to an opera as a little kid, I would fuss and insist to leave since I did not understand anything, and I thought it was boring. In the end, my mother had given up and we only continued to attend classical music concerts when we were together from that time on.
I even had the chance to sing in Carmen opera as a member of a child choir in 2007 yet watching an opera endlessly for 2-hours without understanding a single word always felt overwhelming to me as a kid, and I must have developed a baseless prejudice against the genre since then. However, watching La Traviata was quite an eye-opening experience for me as I never imagined that delving into an opera for contemplation would be such a rewarding experience.
Overall, I enjoyed the story, acting, music, and performance a lot, and I really appreciated the fact that Teatro Real managed to put such a marvelous performance on stage while having to follow Covid-19 measures. However, I also think that watching this semi-staged performance of La Traviata was quite unfortunate for people like me who have never watched it before. Although I think it was spectacular, I could not help but think that this semi-staged version missed something. At first, I was not sure if the odd distance between the characters, especially in the party scenes or moments between Violetta and Alfredo were due to Covid measures or original script, for I thought those scenes should have looked much more crowded, intimate, and colorful. Initially, I could not even comprehend that the first scene was actually a party scene, and I did not understand that the choir members behind were the other guests in the party, as they were isolated from the main characters and stayed still with a distance between them for the whole performance. To properly understand the characters’ roles and setting of each scene, I needed to watch videos of the same scenes from other productions that I could find on YouTube afterward. Luckily, I could find videos from different productions that were put on stage before the pandemic, and this way, I could get a better grasp of how the scenes of this performance by Teatro Real were actually supposed to look like if it was not performed during the pandemic. This overall ambiguity of the scenes due to social distancing between the characters led me to pay my full attention to libretto, music, and characters’ gestures to correctly infer the contexts of the scenes. This led me to realize the significance of the visuality, décor, and positioning of the characters in an opera.
That being said, my dissatisfaction with the performance was related to covid measures that actors had to follow on stage, yet it had nothing to do with its plot and libretto. In fact, I enjoyed the opera quite a lot, and I am pretty sure that I would have nothing to criticize if it was not performed in the Covid period. One of the parts I enjoyed most was the transition from the first act to the second one. In the first act, after Alfredo confessing his love, Violetta seemed confused, and while she seemed to accept Alfredo’s love initially, she decided to dismiss it later when she was alone, not willing to give up her freedom. However, very shortly when the second act began, Violetta and Alfredo were living together already for a few months, and Violetta had given up her freedom and pleasures that she was passionately preserving through the whole first act. I think the way Verdi created an unexpected shift in Violetta’s psychological state was incredible since it accurately and strikingly portrays the complexity and inconsistency of human psychology. Moreover, this unexpected shift in Violetta’s thoughts about true love and freedom reveals how much vulnerable we can be inside while showing our best selves to the outside world, and even the most reckless ones need to feel loved.
Interestingly, Violetta’s situation reminded me of a marvelous novel that I read back in high school, Yalnızız by Peyami Safa. Similar to La Traviata, Meral in Yalnızız was dreaming of having a free and grandeur life in Paris, but when confronted with the love of Samim and fear of losing him, she suddenly realized the shallowness of her life and ideals. It is also interesting that in both works, the idea of luxury, freedom, and pleasure is associated with Paris, as Violetta was also living her lavish life in Paris until moving to the countryside with Alfredo.
Concluding with my final thoughts on La Traviata, I also liked the idea that as the audience, because of the abrupt shift from the first act to the second, we were expected to assume what happened in the time frame between the party and when Violetta and Alfredo started to live together. I enjoyed the fact that it was up to our imagination to sketch a part of the story individually, which I think allowed me to connect with the opera on a more personal and intimate level.