A teenager’s thoughts on La Traviata

by Gabrielle Borromeo
(Manila City, Philippines)

Friday, 17 August 2012 00:00
Published in Daily Tribune Life Style

La Traviata literally means “the fallen woman” or more figuratively, “the woman who goes astray.” It is an Italian opera in three acts, composed by Giuseppe Verdi with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.

A tragic but beautiful story, this Italian opera premiered on the March 6, 1853, at the La Fenice Opera House in Venice and was staged at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (Main Theater) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) last March, in collaboration with the Opera Guild Foundation of the Philippines and Daejeon Opera Company of Korea.

As a teenager, watching movies is always the first choice in entertainment; and opera landing somewhere far far behind. Teens will not even give it a second thought, primarily due to ignorance or lack of exposure. Simply, opera is something hard to understand.

While most teens are impressed but barely care for the talent in opera — the voices, the acting and the lavish production — none of these touch them. The talent does not speak to them. How will opera touch them if they hardly understand the language it speaks? How does one know what the story means? Is research necessary before watching opera? Research is certainly not appealing to a teen, who is already submerged in academics.

A more laidback kind of entertainment will definitely be more preferable to a teen. Demi Lovato, an American pop singer, sings a few of her songs in Spanish and in other languages, yet she still connects with audiences, even those who do not speak the songs’ languages. Opera can appeal to teenagers if it finds that same spark that catches the younger generation just like most movie musicals manage to do.

To understand opera, I searched for La Traviata on the net to look for that connection, and what I found surprised me. I found out that La Traviata is an engaging, even amusing story. The plot revolves around a stunning but doomed courtesan named Violetta Valéry, who one day meets a man named Alfredo Germont. Alfredo, for quite a while, has been eyeing Violetta, and as soon as he gets a chance to talk to her, he finds a way to touch her heart. Falling helplessly in love with Alfredo, Violetta leaves her former life to live with her love.

Months pass and life is going well for the happy couple, until Giorgio Germont, the father of Alfredo, speaks to Violetta, demanding that she end her relationship with his son because of her unsavory reputation. A reputation that threatens his daughter’s engagement.

Baffled and reluctant at the idea of breaking off with Alfredo, Violetta agrees to comply why Giorgio’s demands.
Angry at Violetta’s decision, Alfredo asks her if she loves someone else. In distress, she looks him in the eye and makes a false admission. Alfredo, filled with rage, calls out people to witness him humiliate and denounce her. Unable to take it all in, Violetta faints.

Giorgio, who knows everything, confronts his son, rebukes his behavior and admits to him the sacrifice Violetta has done for his sister and their family. Back home, Violetta receives news from Dr. Grenvil that she will not live long because her tuberculosis that has worsened. Later, when she is alone, she reads a letter she has received from Giorgio informing her that Alfredo is on his way to ask for pardon, but Violetta senses it just might be too late.

Upon Alfredo’s arrival, the lovers are reunited, but time is running. Violetta dies in Alfredo’s arms.

La Traviata is based on a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, La dame aux camélias (1852). It was supposed to follow the contemporary setting found in the play of Dumas. However, Piave and Verdi could not do so because of the authorities at La Fenice, who asserted that it should be set in year of 1700. It was only in 1880 when the wishes of the two were granted to have their opera in a more modern-day setting.

La Traviata is now a timeless classic and known as one of the world’s most popular operas, ranking second to Mozart’s The Magic Flute. For La Traviata, it was not at all that easy to attain popularity. When La Traviata made its debut, the opera was said to have failed until a year later.

The CCP production of La Traviata, which originally was entitled Violetta after the leading character, was directed by Floy Quintos with set and costume design by Eric Cruz.

The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra provided live orchestral music under Professor Jae Joon Lee, while singers from the University of Santo Tomas rendered choral support.

The main cast was divided into two groups — Korean and Filipino. Portraying Violetta Valéry was Korean soprano Yun-Kyoung Yi and Filipina soprano Rachelle Gerodias. Alfredo Germont was portrayed by Korean baritone Daesan No and Filipino bass baritone Andrew Fernando. For Giorgio Germont was Korean tenor JaeWook Lee and Filipino-American tenor Arthur Espiritu.

The story of La Traviata pulls at every person’s heart regardless of the language barrier. From the common threads of love and sorrow that I gleaned from La Traviata, I have learned to open my eyes to stories from other cultures and can even go so far as to say that I am definitely looking forward to CCP’s next opera production, The Phantom of the Opera, on Aug. 25, 26 and 31.

To the youngsters out there, this is another love story that will echo the same aching feelings of love and sorrow that we can all relate to. Love, after all, knows no language and overcomes cultural barriers.

For more information, call the CCP box office at 832-1125 or 832-3701 loc. 1409, or visit CCP’s Web site at www.culturalcenter.gov.ph.

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