What to Listen for in LA TRAVIATA – Act III

John Baril
Conductor, La Traviata

Today we conclude our three-part blog series on “What to Listen for in La Traviata” with Conductor John Baril. If you’re just joining us, please read the previous posts on Act I and Act II.

The last Act starts with another prelude featuring pronounced sobbing or weeping in the strings. Very sparse recitative ensues with much information for the audience. Violetta reads a letter (literally speaking out loud, a very rare occurrence in opera) to comfort herself over underscoring which features, you guessed it, Alfredo’s “Di quell’amor” in the solo violin. She sings her farewell aria (“Addio del passato”), realizing she will die alone.
LISTEN: Addio del passato (Act III, Violetta) – Edita Gruberova
An offstage chorus is heard singing a cappella (unaccompanied) party music—it is Baccanale or Mardi Gras time in Paris. Note: anytime you hear offstage music in a stage work, there is always a faithful assistant conductor with a monitor and music stand making sure it all happens smoothly and efficiently. Alfredo arrives and, to another famous three-quarter time “oom-chick-chick” accompaniment, they sing about leaving Paris as soon as Violetta’s health returns (“Parigi o cara”).
LISTEN: Parigi o cara  – Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni

When the voices combine, listen for how differently each is written; that is, Alfredo’s melody is very lyrical and sustained whereas Violetta’s interjections are laboriously separated by (her ever-diminishing) breathing. Violetta tries to get dressed so they can go to church – all with powerful, distressing, insistent music – but to no purpose. The end of this duet (“Gran Dio, morir si giovine”) is supported by pizzicati in the orchestra—which sounds very striking and unusual.

Germont arrives full of remorse to what reminds me of circus-music. The final ensemble, despite its intimacy, features full orchestra, including trombones and tuba, playing along in a kind of death march (except it’s in three – oh, well). Anyone familiar with sister opera Il trovatore will recognize this as a musical kindred spirit to the famous “Miserere” scene from that piece. Again, listen for how the characters express themselves within the confines of this march—very individual rhythmic outbursts layered one on top of the other. In the final moments, Violetta experiences a burst of energy bolstered by the first violin’s very soft reiteration of “Di quell’amor” supported by tremolo (literally “trembling”) string section. The very final bars of music feature the orchestra punctuating the fortissimo timpani roll with their sad, powerful Db minor chords.
LISTEN: Act III Finale – Beverly Sills, Nicolai Gedda, Rolando Panerai


View our Opera Insider today for the full article and more insider information on the entire 2015 Festival. La Traviata opens tonight and runs through August 8, 2015. If you can’t make our opening night performance, listen to our live broadcast on Colorado Public Radio, over the air or online, 8:00 pm Mountain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *