La Traviata is an opera full of highlights. Much of its music its familiar to listeners who are not opera enthusiasts. But popular as it is, the finale to the second act is rarely heard apart from a complete performance. Nevertheless, this ensemble is one of Verdi’s grandest achievements.
The world’s most popular opera, Traviata has been recorded with astounding frequency, beginning in 1912 continuing up to the present. Obviously, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but one of the best recordings was made in 1956 under the baton of Pierre Monteux. It featured Rosanna Carteri in the title role. Tenor Cesare Valletti was Alfredo. The great American Verdi baritone Leonard Warren portrayed the elder Germont. Carteri, the subject of the post immediately previous to this one was 25 at the time of this recording.
The excerpt below, set at a party, begins with Alfredo’s denunciation of Violetta. He thinks she has left him for another man. In actuality, she loves him without reservation, but has renounced him to save the upcoming bourgeois marriage of his sister. Remember, the action is set in the mid 19th century when cohabitation was a deal breaker. Alfredo is so overwrought that he throws the money he has won playing cards at her as payment for her services. The onlookers are horrified and express their anger at Alfredo. His father enters, he knows the truth of the situation, and heaps even more scorn at the hapless Alfredo. The tenor, a young man barely more than 20, is immediately consumed with remorse. Violetta, still in love with the young man, wishes he could understand The reason for her actions.
Verdi’s setting of the action is masterful. The emotions of the three principals and those of the onlookers (the chorus) are depicted with music of extraordinary aptness and expression.
Monteux was one of the greatest conductors of the last century. Unfortunately, his assignments at the Metropolitan Opera were limited to French works. In reality, He could conduct just about anything. His reading of this dramatic scene conveys all the nuance and dramatic potency inherent in Verdi’s score.