Marina Rebeka talks about La Traviata
One of the most beautiful and challenging aspects of being an artist is reliving the same life story over and over again, each time deeply, truly, and differently, while performing the beloved role on stage. This is exactly how I feel when I perform the role of Violetta Valéry.
Verdi’s opera La Traviata is based on Alexandre Dumas fils’novel La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady of the Camellias), in which the author describes his own experience of being in love with the famous Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis (in the novel she is called Marguerite Gautier), who dies of tuberculosis at the age of 23 in complete poverty and loneliness after having mingled with some of the most prominent individuals of Parisian society. The novel was a huge success, and Dumas soon adapted it for the theater. It was after seeing the play that Maestro Giuseppe Verdi was moved to compose an opera, which he named La Traviata (The Fallen Woman). The story had some resemblance with his own personal life as well. After the death of his first wife, Verdi fell in love with the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi. They lived together for twelve years without being officially married, and, in the same way that a structured and hypocritical society had condemned (yet also enjoyed) people like Duplessis, they suffered criticism regarding their personal lives, especially Strepponi.Maybe it is because of this personal angle to the story that Verdi put so much love and understanding into his music, a passion and devotion that has moved – and continues to move – the hearts of thousands of listeners around the world.
The premiere of La Traviata took place in Venice and was a complete fiasco. The well-dressed, high-society ladies could not accept being shown the story of a courtesan, and the gentlemen did not want to see exposed on stage what many of them did in private. The theme of the opera itself, apart from being taboo, was very unpleasant to society at the time due to its immediacy and truth. Contrary to most operas, this story was not set in a remote time and place; instead, it took place right there and then, and to people very much like those in the audience. Courtesans were intended for entertainment purposes only and were not considered worth talking about, much less highlighted on stage. Nevertheless, La Traviata became one of Verdi’s most popular operas, if not his most popular one.
The story reveals the real, fragile life of a young, beautiful, and intelligent woman who, despite having had affairs with many high-society men, has never experienced real love herself. Once she does, however, she is ready to sacrifice everything she has, including her life, for the good of her beloved. La Traviata is a story of true love and complete devotion, in which the deepest of human feelings are set against the backdrop of a frivolous and hypocritical society.
Technically speaking, the role of Violetta is quite demanding. To begin with, it is very long, and it has fast coloraturas, beautiful legato lines, and lots of colors. It used to be said that three different types of voice are required to portray this role. I would say that you need just one voice, but a voice with many colors and shades, with big extension, technically prepared, and, above all, you need a huge heart and the will to play every show as if it were your last. At least that’s the way I feel every time I approach the role of Violetta on stage.
Surely a studio recording is different from a live performance. Nevertheless, I hope that through this recording my wonderful colleagues and I will succeed in bringing to you all the truth and passion of this unique masterpiece by Verdi.