In darkly comic rock-fable Fly By Night, a gypsy prophecy propels melancholy sandwich-maker-slash-wannabe musician Harold and two entrancing sisters through a star-crossed journey of love and connection that culminates during the Northeast blackout of 1965.
Harold’s father, Mr. McClam, finds great joy in the blackout. The darkened buildings drive people outside, providing the opportunity to chat with neighbors. Mr. McClam is thrilled to tell his neighbors about the time he saw the opera La Traviata with his wife, Cecily Smith.
So what exactly is this opera Mr. McClam loves so much? We’re glad you asked!
What is La Traviata?
La Traviatais an Italian tragic opera in three acts written by Giuseppe Verdi. It premiered March 6, 1853, at Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Italy. Originally, the opera was named after the story’s heroine, Violetta, but the title was later changed to La Traviata, meaning “The Lost Woman.”
What’s the Story?
Violetta Valéry knows she will die soon due to her restless life as a courtesan. At a party in Paris, she meets and falls in love with Alfredo Germot. In spite of her initial reservations, Violetta chooses to leave her life of free love for a life of true love with Alfredo.
The young lovers move to the country, but financial difficulties begin to strain the couple’s relationship. While Alfredo is away, Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germot secretly visits Violetta to demand she leave Alfredo because her relationship with his son threatens his daughter’s impending marriage. Brokenhearted but willing to sacrifice for her lover’s family, Violetta leaves Alfredo without telling him the truth of their situation.
Alfredo is furious when he discovers Violetta has left him. When he encounters Violetta at a party, Alfredo renounces Violetta in front of everyone, driving her friends away from her. With no one to lean on, Violetta falls into deeper illness and poverty. When Giorgio Germot realizes what Violetta has sacrificed for his family, Giorgio reunites Alfredo and Violetta, but it is too late. The lovers share a final moment of forgiveness, and then Violetta dies in Alfredo’s arms.
Where does the story of La Traviata come from?
This opera is based on the 1848 novel La Dame aux Camélias by Alexander Dumas fils (which he adapted for the stage in 1851). This semi-autobiographical novel was inspired by his affair with the famous French courtesan Marie Duplessis. Though Duplessis died at the young age of 23, hundreds grieved the loss of her bright spirit, and Dumas fils immortalized her in his novel and stage play. Giuseppe Verdi is assumed to have read the popular book and seen the play while he was in Paris from 1851-1852, inspiring his operatic masterpiece.
What’s Mr. McClam’s favorite song from La Traviata?
Mr. McClaim loves to turn on his record player and sing along to the Act I brindisi (drinking-song) from La Traviata, one of the best known opera melodies in performance history. Here is an English translation of the famous verses:
Let us drink from the goblets of joy
adorned with beauty,
And the fleeting hour
shall be intoxicated with pleasure.
Let us drink to the secret raptures
which love excites,
for [my lover’s] eye
reigns supreme in my heart…
Let us drink, for with wine love
will enjoy yet more passionate kisses.
The following recording of the Act I brindisi was performed by opera legends Licia Albanese and Jan Peerce, 1951. Both opera stars performed in La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera House during the 1940s, when Mr. McClam would have seen the show with his sweetheart, Cecily Smith.
Don’t miss your chance to hear Mr. McClam sing this melody in Fly By Night, a sweeping ode to young love that finds light in a world beset by darkness, September 1-29.
Performances run Tuesday through Sunday. Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday, 8:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 2:00 pm; and Sunday, 7:00 pm. A complete calendar of performances is available online at www.ensemblecincinnati.org.