Night at the Opera #4: La Traviata

This year, since I’m only partly a penniless waif, I treated myself to season tickets to the Washington Metropolitan Opera.  I felt a little bit like City Mouse, Country Mouse now that I actually get to sit down instead of standing the entire performance like I did last year.  It’s a whole different perspective when you don’t have to stand for 3 hours.

I never really knew the entire story of La Traviata.  I had heard a couple of the instrumentals on these complilation CDs I used to buy as a teenager.  When I bought my season tickets, I couldn’t decide on a third one, so La Traviata was kind of the operator’s choice because I think she was getting tired of my wishy-washiness.

At any rate, I like to get there early so I can sit on the opera house steps and watch people.  I enjoy observing because you learn so much about the human dynamic when you sit still and say nothing.  It’s mostly older people that go to the opera anymore.  Washington Metropolitan Opera has this new thing new called Generation O, designed for young opera goers, to get young people interested.  The way it’s going now, once all these baby boomers die off, the opera might die with it.  And you can kind of tell the culture is fading away.  Opera used to be a thing where you dress up in your most glamorous couture and afterwards, treat yourself to an extravagant nightcap at the local hotspot.

These days, people show up dressed like anything:  jeans, flip flops, whatever.  Most opera houses used to have dress codes, but they want to keep the seats filled so they fell lax on the rules.  It’s just as well.  Really, when you think about it, it’s a three hour live movie.  Nobody goes to the movies in their prom dress.

The soprano left much to be desired in the first act.  Her voice was shrill and scratchy.  She did not have a clear voice.  Sometimes the string section overpowered her, and I couldn’t hear her.  The tenor was superb, his voice passionate and strong.  A well-sung opera makes you wish you were the soprano and makes you fall in love with the tenor.  I was in love with him, but she was getting on my nerves.  At one point, she was so flat that my ears hurt.

At the second act, she came out much stronger, almost as if they switched sopranos when the curtain fell.  She improved as the act wore on, and by the third act she was actually believable.  The scenery of the second act was magnificent, however.  It was like some tawdry bordello of crimson velour, but I loved it.  So scandalous.  It was over the top, but then again, everything was.  The death scene with the grim reaper prowling around in the background?  Corny and it made a few members of the audience laugh.

The story of La Traviata is about a beautiful high class woman of the night.  A young wealthy man falls madly in love with her and convinces her to leave her life of luxe prostitution to live with him in the countryside.  They do so and everything is all fun and games until his sister wants to get married to some nobleman who would choke on his porridge if he knew his bride’s brother was living in sin with a courtesan.  The young man’s father appeals to the demimondaine, begging her to let him go so that the family can regain respectability.

She agrees, but only because she is so in love with him but she makes the father promise that one day, after she is dead, that he will tell his son the truth about why she left.  She writes a letter to her lover, tells him she is leaving to go be with another man.  He’s all heartbroken and she’s devastated, meanwhile, dying of some disease (why do they all have a disease?). 

Months later, he can’t take it anymore and returns only to find her on her deathbed.  He professes his undying love for her and she tells him that she is in love with him too.  Then the father busts into the room, and realises what a grievous error he has made in keeping these two tragically romantic people apart.  She dies; he cries.  The end.

I guess I am a romantic deep down inside my bitter, black heart.  Or maybe it’s the fact that nobody ever wins in a tragic opera.  Either the woman dies, or the man dies, or they both die, but they never end up being together. 

I guess that’s the way of the world.


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