La traviata has returned to Irish National Opera

La traviata has returned to Irish National Opera

Although something of a fiasco at its première on March 6, 1853, at the La Fenice opera house in Venice, Verdi’s La traviata now ranks among the most popular of his operas and, indeed, the most frequently performed in the Italian repertoire worldwide. La traviata has returned to Irish National Opera for a series of five performances this week at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre (Tuesday, May 21 to Saturday, May 25).

Seeing the play The Lady of the Camellias by French writer Alexandre Dumas fils in Paris, Verdi decided the drama would make an ideal transfer to the operatic stage and considered Venice’s La Fenice Theatre an ideal venue. The composer approached his friend, and well-established librettist, Francesco Maria Piave to supply a text.

Piave was summoned to Sant’ Agata, Verdi’s home near Busseto in Northern Italy, and while matters did not run all that smoothly between them Piave was sanguine maintaining “everything will turn out fine. We will have a new masterpiece from this true wizard of modern harmonies”.


But La traviata‘s passage was still not without its problems. Verdi wanted it in ‘modern day dress’ but the Fenice’s censors and management thought otherwise and demanded 17th century costumes. Verdi was adamant.

Further problems arose with the casting especially with the highly acclaimed soprano Fanny Salvini-Donatelli. She was not one of Verdi’s favourite singers but she had contractual obligations with La Fenice and could not be replaced.

However, the unfortunate woman was jeered during the first performance as the audience considered her too old – she was thirty-eight – and overweight to undertake the role of a young demimonde dying of consumption. Besides leading tenor Lodovico Graziani and baritone Felice Varesi also found themselves the butt of audience dissatisfaction.

Needless to remark the composer himself was not well pleased and in a letter to another friend, Emanuele Muzio, next day wrote, “La traviata last night [was] a failure. Was the fault mine, or the singers? Time will tell”. Well, time told and relatively soon La traviata was being staged throughout Italy and further afield.


First performed in England on May 24, 1856, at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London the opera was considered ‘morally questionable’. The heads of the Church of England did their best to have an injunction placed on performances and Queen Victoria refrained from visiting the theatre during the opera’s run although it seems ‘the music, words and all, did not go unheard in Buckingham palace’.

Following the first US performance at the Academy of Music in New York on December 3, 1856, the eminent lawyer and diarist George Templeton Strong noted, “People say the plot’s immoral, but I didn’t see that it’s so much worse than many others, not to speak of Don Giovanni, which as put on the stage is little but rampant lechery”.

Under the baton of young conductor, Killian Farrell, the current INO production has the role of courtesan Violetta Vallery shared between sopranos Amanda Woodbury and Máire Flavin with tenor Mario Chang as lover Alfredo and baritone Brett Polegate as his concerned father Giorgio Germont.