• La Traviata: Around the Opera (III)

    As mentioned in a previous article, the first performance of La Traviata was a little 'fiasco'. However, the second one, also in Venice, but at Teatro San Benedetto, in 1854, was a resounding success. According to Verdi himself, the big difference was the cast:

    the Traviata now being performed at San Benedetto is the same, the very same as was performed last year at La Fenice, with the exception of a few transpositions and a few 'puntature' which I myself made to suit it better to these singers…For the rest, not a piece has been changed, not a piece has been added or omitted, not a musical idea has been altered.


    Basically, those transpositions affected to semitonal adjustments of pieces like "Dite alla giovine", (from E major to E-flat major) in the second act duet. This was in line with the tonality most often used in this second act, and really one can understands why it suited better. However, we need to be careful to attribute to Verdi a kind of tonal planning for La Traviata. One of the most important experts in Verdi, Julian Budden, author of the excellent "The Operas of Verdi", a really indispensable book for anyone interested in the italian composer, flatly states:

    The substitution of E-flat for E sheds a revealing light on Verdi’s attitude to key schemes. To Wagner a difference of key in relation to the surrounding material means a difference of emotion. Verdi and the Italians were so used to adapting their music for different performers that they did not allow their ideas of music-drama to evolve on those lines…But it is in the passage following the 1854 version, that we really get the benefit of the lower key…Notice how the phrase “Qual figlia m’abbracciate” now stands out like a pearl


    The other big change was in the third act, in the tempo di mezzo following "Parigi, o cara", leading to the bright cabaletta in C major (in D-flat major in the original), “Grand Dio!…morir sì giovine.”, introducing also chords in A-flat minor as Violetta falters, and death seems to be claiming her.

    Though important, those changes are clearly not a major revision, and Verdi was absolutely right: the big difference was, indeed, the cast.


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