Did you know...? La traviata

25 October 2023

Our Autumn tour is in full swing and, alongside Ainadamar, our ever-popular production of La traviata has delighted audiences at all the venues we’ve visited so far.  

Widely regarded as the world’s most loved opera, you probably think you know La traviata. However, we’ve uncovered some facts that might surprise you. 

It wasn’t always as popular as it is today… 

La traviata debuted in 1853 and was considered a huge flop. The negative reception was partly due to the casting of soprano Fanny Salvini-Donatelli, who was criticised for being too old and too stout to believably play the young Violetta. 

A popular chart topper 

La traviata is the most performed opera worldwide and has topped the charts for most global performances several times. During the 2015/2016 season, Verdi’s masterpiece was performed a staggering 4,190 times, across 869 separate productions.  

Getting the look 

One of the highlights of our production is its visual appeal, and in particular the beautiful period costumes. Set in mid-19th century Paris, the costume designs reflect the time, with female styles almost exclusively originating from the French capital. You can read more about Parisian fashions in our blog Parisian Fashion – the reason La traviata looks the way it does… . But it’s not just the dresses that make La traviata a feast for the eyes; wigs and make-up play a key role in demonstrating when the opera is set, as well as indicating the passing of time or depicting ill health. Principal ladies can take anywhere from 45 mins to an hour for full make-up and wig application. 

Based on a true story 

Verdi based his opera on La Dame aux Camélias, the 1852 play adapted from the 1848 novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas. The young Dumas had written his novel based on his own experiences with Marie Duplessis, a famous French courtesan, with whom he had been romantically involved. Duplessis was mistress to a succession of wealthy and important men and, like Violetta in La traviata, she succumbed to consumption aged just 23. 

Inspiring popular culture 

La traviata has had a rich and varied life beyond the stage, providing inspiration for several movies and lending its music to many more. Most famously, La traviata’s plot was used as the basis for the 1990 romantic comedy Pretty Woman and Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 epic musical Moulin Rouge. Our blog La traviata in popular culture explores other modern areas that have been inspired by Verdi’s work. 

A contemporary opera 

It is the only one of Verdi’s operas to take place in his own time as he set it in 1853, the same year he wrote it. However, opera companies would not comply and, for the premiere, the censors forced him to set the production a century and a half earlier in the time of Louis XIV, complete with long curled wigs, balloon breeches and buckled shoes. That is how Verdi saw his opera and it was performed this way until 1906, five years after his death.  

These days, we get to enjoy La traviata set in the time Verdi intended and there is still time for you to catch our production of this masterpiece on tour.