A couple of weeks ago I attended the last night of Richard Eyre’s classic production of La Traviata at the Royal Opera House. Written in the early 1850s by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and set to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, the three-act opera tells the story of a courtesan falling in love in 19th century Paris, based on Alexandre Dumas fils' romantic novel La Dame aux Camélias, itself based on the true story of beautiful courtesan Marie Duplessis.
It opens with an elegant party with ballgowns and tuxedos as the guests raise ‘A toast to the pleasures of life!’ in the famous Brindisi (The Drinking Song) and takes us beneath the glamorous surface of Parisian high society, with social tensions and doomed lovers. Violetta falls in love with Alfredo, whose father Germont disapproves and convinces Violetta to leave Alfredo for the family's sake, whilst Alfredo thinks Violetta left him because she no longer loves him. When Germont sees the ill, lonely Violetta (the 'fallen woman' of the title) he understands how much she's sacrificed and confesses to Alfredo, who goes to Violetta's deathbed to see her before she dies. It's one of the most popular operas for its breadth of dramatic emotions and wonderful melodies, and a must-see for all theatre-goers, classical music lovers and opera newbies.