Lyric Opera of Chicago
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A love story as unforgettable as Verdi’s sweeping and spectacular melodies!

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  • by Giuseppe Verdi
  • In Italian with projected English texts.

    Verdi's La Traviata is a new production. Coproduction of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, and Canadian Opera Company.

  • Running time: 2h, 58m

Profoundly moving and emotionally overwhelming—Verdi's music says it all in this lush new production.

Violetta is the most desirable courtesan in Paris. Sought after by society’s most important men and wealthy in her own right, she is perfectly content—until she falls in love with Alfredo Germont. But when Alfredo’s father insists that she’ll ruin Alfredo’s family name, she selflessly pushes away the only man she’s ever loved. Will they ever be together again? Yes, but by then it’s much, much too late.

A new production from Arin Arbus, called “a star in the making” by The New York Times.

New Lyric Opera production of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata generously made possible by the Julius Frankel Foundation in honor of Nelson D. Cornelius, Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson, Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel, and Helen and Sam Zell.



  • Marina Rebeka


    Marina Rebeka

    Making her Chicago debut, radiant Marina Rebeka boasts "gleaming tone and fearless coloratura...she is a star." San Francisco Chronicle

  • Joseph Calleja


    Joseph Calleja

    Joseph Calleja owns "the most thrilling lyric tenor sound since Pavarotti." Associated Press

  • Quinn Kelsey

    Giorgio Germont

    Quinn Kelsey

    Quinn Kelsey: With his dark, exciting voice, "he could be the Verdi baritone we've been waiting for." Chicago Sun-Times

La Traviata - Marina Rebeka

Marina Rebeka*

La Traviata - Joseph Calleja

Joseph Calleja

La Traviata - Quinn Kelsey

Giorgio Germont
Quinn Kelsey† †

La Traviata - J'nai Bridges

J'nai Bridges† 

La Traviata - Julie Anne Miller

Julie Anne Miller† 

La Traviata - Adam Bonanni

Adam Bonanni† 

La Traviata - Adam Bonanni

John Irvin† 

La Traviata - Nicholas Pallesen

Nicholas Pallesen

La Traviata - Will Liverman

Will Liverman† 

La Traviata - Richard Ollarsaba

Dr. Grenvil
Richard Ollarsaba† 

La Traviata - Anthony Clark Evans

Anthony Clark Evans† 

La Traviata - Massimo Zanetti

Massimo Zanetti

La Traviata - Arin Arbus

Arin Arbus*

Set Designer
Riccardo Hernandez


Costume Designer
Cait O’Connor


Lighting Designer
Marcus Doshi*



Projection Designer
Christopher Ash*



Chorus Master
Michael Black


Austin McCormick*


*Lyric Debut
† current member, Ryan Opera Center
† † alumnus/ alumna, Ryan Opera Center


TIME: Around 1860
PLACE: In and near Paris

A salon in Violetta’s home

A party is in progress at the Paris home of a beautiful courtesan, Violetta Valéry, who only recently has revived from serious illness. Gastone de Letorières introduces her to Alfredo Germont, his friend from the country. Violetta’s current lover, Baron Douphol, is irritated with Alfredo because during Violetta’s recent illness, Alfredo came to her home each day to express his concern. Gastone encourages Alfredo to lead a drinking song (Brindisi: Libiamo ne’ lieti calici). 

The guests move into the next room for dancing, but Violetta, feeling faint, stays behind. She is startled by the reappearance of Alfredo and gently rebuffs him when he declares his love (Duet: Un dì felice). Finally she gives him a flower, telling him to return when it has faded. Overjoyed – since this means he will see her the next day – he leaves, followed moments later by the other guests, who affectionately bid their hostess goodnight.

Violetta wonders if Alfredo offers the true love she thought would never be hers (Aria: Ah! fors’è lui). She laughs off the idea, declaring that her life will remain a whirl of pleasure (Cabaletta: Sempre libera).


Scene 1. A country house

Five months later Alfredo is blissfully happy living with Violetta in the country, far from Paris society (Aria: De’ miei bollenti spiriti). When Alfredo learns from the maid, Annina, that Violetta has been selling her possessions to pay their expenses, he rushes off to Paris to raise the necessary funds (Cabaletta: O mio rimorso). Violetta is perplexed by Alfredo’s sudden departure. She receives an invitation to a party to be given by her friend, Flora Bervoix, that evening in Paris and quickly dismisses it.

A visitor arrives: Alfredo’s father, who is outraged by his son’s liaison with Violetta. She responds that she is a lady and will not be insulted in her own house. Germont insists that Violetta give up Alfredo for the sake of his family: Alfredo has a sister whose chances for a prosperous marriage would be doomed by Alfredo’s relationship with Violetta. Having assumed that Violetta is after his son’s money, he is surprised to see that she loves Alfredo unselfishly. She is eventually convinced by Germont’s appeal and agrees to leave Alfredo (Duet: Dite alla giovine), knowing that it will hasten her death. Germont urges her to live and attempts to console her with the thought that heaven will reward her sacrifice. He embraces her and leaves. Violetta decides to go to Flora’s party that night and writes a farewell note to Alfredo. When he returns, she begs him simply to love her as much as she loves him and then runs from the room.

The confused Alfredo is surprised when a messenger delivers the farewell note from Violetta. He reads only a few lines before despair overwhelms him, but his father appears and offers comfort. He begs his son to return to the family in Provence (Aria: Di Provenza il mar), and urges Alfredo to seek solace in their embrace (Cabaletta: No, non udrai rimproveri). Noticing Flora’s invitation, Alfredo assumes that Violetta has returned to her old life – and to her old lover. He resolves to seek revenge at the party.

Scene 2. Flora’s mansion

At Flora’s home, everyone enjoys vigorous Spanish entertainment (Chorus: Noi siamo zingarelle). Alfredo startles the guests by arriving without Violetta. She soon arrives, escorted by Baron Douphol, who battles Alfredo at the gaming table. Alfredo wins every game and large sums of money. When supper is announced, all adjourn to the dining room, but the distraught Violetta soon reappears, having asked to see Alfredo privately. Fearing Douphol’s jealousy, she begs Alfredo to leave immediately. He refuses, finally drawing from her a false confession that she loves Douphol. Summoning the guests, Alfredo humiliates and denounces Violetta and throws his winnings at her feet as payment for her services. She faints, to the horror of all present, who castigate Alfredo for his behavior. Germont, who has followed his son to the party, reproaches him for insulting a woman, even in anger. Now revived, Violetta laments that Alfredo will never understand the sacrifice she made for love (Ensemble: Alfredo, Alfredo).



Violetta’s bedroom

One month later, Violetta lies dying in her Paris home. Dr. Grenvil encourages her, but admits to Annina that Violetta has only a few hours to live. Violetta asks Annina to distribute her remaining money to the poor. Left alone, she rereads a letter from Germont: Alfredo, having wounded the baron in a duel, is traveling abroad. Germont has written him of Violetta’s sacrifice, and Alfredo – accompanied by his father – will soon return to ask her forgiveness. Violetta knows that it is too late (Aria: Addio del passato).

Annina reappears, asking her mistress if she feels well enough to hear some unexpected, joyous news. Within seconds Violetta is in Alfredo’s arms. He convinces her that she will regain her health once they start life together again, far from Paris (Duet: Parigi, o cara). Violetta wishes to go to church to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. She attempts to dress, but her energy is gone. In anger and despair, she asks how God can let her die so young.

When Germont arrives, he is horrified to see Violetta in such terrible condition. She gives Alfredo a miniature of herself in happier days, and asks that he give it to the woman he will one day marry (Finale: Prendi, quest’è l’immagine). Violetta suddenly declares that she has found new strength, but then falls lifeless.


A Conversation with the Director

Arin Arbus, who debuts at Lyric Opera with La traviata, spoke during spring 2013 with the company’s manager of media relations, Magda Krance. (Edited by Lyric dramaturg Roger Pines)

How have you immersed yourself in the story, the music, and the backstory of La traviata?

I started working on it about a year ago. It was fascinating to read both the Dumas fils novel and his play, to see what Verdi and his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, were working from and to make note of the things they changed. I also read about Marie Duplessis, the courtesan Dumas fils fell in love with, who was the inspiration for his novel.

Because the opera rests so deeply upon 19th-century bourgeois concepts of morality, it has been important for me to gain an understanding of the values of the world that Verdi is depicting, and to understand the life and trade of a Parisian courtesan of the time. There really isn’t an equivalent in our world – certainly it’s very different from our contemporary understanding of prostitution. I actually think that’s one of the aspects of the opera that is most challenging to convey to contemporary audiences. But it’s crucial – Violetta’s shame and her precarious financial situation are at the crux of the dramaturgy. 

All the history and backstory goes into the stew of my imagination, but ultimately one has to simply focus on the opera itself. The music reveals the story in an incredibly specific way, and that is of the greatest interest.

What draws you to this opera? 

The music. The story, which depicts a beautiful love destroyed by a petty and cruel world. I love the intimacy and the intensity of the piece, the tragedy of it, the poetry within the music, the ways the melodies are woven through, the passion expressed by the characters. And I love Violetta’s fierce thirst for life in the face of death, her self-loathing, her loneliness, the wild parties.

How do you keep the opera’s timeliness/timelessness without transposing it into a current setting? 

For me, it’s not the setting that makes something relevant to an audience. I have seen many plays, operas, and films that were set in our contemporary world that had little relevance or power, just as I have seen many period pieces that speak to me directly and feel of the moment – and vice versa. The setting is not the determinant, it’s just the surface. It’s the immediacy and truth of the characters, their situations, the imagery, language, music, ideas, themes, and passions that make a piece timely and profound.

In this case, we’re setting La traviata around the time that Verdi wrote the opera, as it was originally conceived, because the circumstances surrounding Violetta are incredibly specific. To move it out of that time, I feel, would change or lower the stakes.

What intrigues, moves, and/or frustrates you about the three central characters?

Violetta is a successful courtesan, a girl who is dying. She is lonely, sad, theatrical, practical, passionate, so filled with longing. She knows how to throw a great party.

One of the big questions is: why does Violetta agree to break it off with Alfredo? Why does Germont get to her? It’s one of the mysteries of the piece. I think she believes that a courtesan, a fallen woman, doesn’t get to fall in love. She cannot escape her past. She knows better than to fall in love, but does it anyway. She sacrifices her one shot at love and happiness because she believes she doesn’t deserve it. She has digested the values of her world and has come to believe that they are correct. That’s what destroys her.

Alfredo comes from a sheltered, conventional, bourgeois world. He is adventurous. He comes to Paris and is knocked out by this remarkable woman – he’s never met anyone like her. He loves, despite the expectations of his family and the world. How brave! He is naïve, impulsive, inexperienced, has a temper, is a rebel. The thing that frustrates me about him is his foolishness when it comes to money. I don’t understand why it doesn’t occur to him that Violetta is paying their way in the country.

Germont is a sinister figure in the opera, but he’s actually a very ordinary, familiar, bourgeois family man. That’s what makes him so dangerous – he thinks he knows what’s best. He represents the moral conventions of 19th-century Paris and probably 19th-century Italy. Surprisingly, he comes to love Violetta.

How do you envision the chorus’s role?

In a certain sense La traviata is a story about profane love – a love that is a kind of rebellion against the world. Germont reveals the values of the world Alfredo rebels against, while the chorus reveals the world from which Violetta tries to escape. Her life as a courtesan is one of excess, debauchery, empty pleasure, superficiality, and disease. The chorus must convey this.

What are the inspirations for the visual world you’re creating with your collaborators?

Here are some images that come to mind: a frail girl putting on a big dress, brightly colored damask wallpaper, a man in a woman’s wig, bull heads, skeletons, Spanish lace, iridescent bird wings, colored paper lanterns, dancing shadows, Ingmar Bergman’s figures on the horizon from The Seventh Seal, sunlight breaking through the trees, pastel colored cakes, carnival parades, 19th-century Parisian interiors, daguerreotypes, white plaster walls, confetti....

Lyric’s new production of Verdi’s La Traviata

by Magda Krance

“A courtesan…is less than a mistress because she sells her love for material benefits; she is more than a prostitute because she chooses her lovers…[Her] profession is love….Her profession is hard…[it] may give her a life well beyond her dreams, or it may finally break her…”
Joanna Richardson, The Courtesans: The Demi-Monde in 19th-Century France

Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata was stunningly new when it premiered 160 years ago. Among the first truly contemporary operas, it had a controversial subject: how a glamorous young courtesan’s one shot at real love was undone by bourgeois morality, male subjugation, and mortal illness.

A young man from the provinces, Alfredo Germont (tenor Joseph Calleja), declares his love to Violetta Valery (soprano Marina Rebeka/debut) after admiring her from afar. She yields to him and they live together in unwedded bliss until his father, Giorgio Germont (baritone Quinn Kelsey), unaware that Violetta doesn’t have long to live, arrives to break up this scandalous arrangement, which threatens the family honor. Persuaded by Germont to leave his son, Violetta is later humiliated publicly by Alfredo. By the time they reconcile it’s far too late.

La traviata immmortalizes Marie Duplessis (1824-47), an ethereal beauty and one of Paris’s most celebrated courtesans. With extravagant accoutrements and upper-crust patrons, “they constituted a class apart, an extraordinary sorority,” writes Richardson. Alexandre Dumas fils fictionalized his liaison with Duplessis in a novel and a play, La dame aux camélias. Verdi was at the height of his creative powers when, in 1852, he likely saw the play; he quickly enlisted Francesco Maria Piave for the libretto. La traviata sublimely conveys Violetta’s desperate febrile joy, haunting self-doubt, passionate love and heartbreak, and poignant final moments.

Conductor Massimo Zanetti, a seasoned Verdian, and Arin Arbus (debut), an experienced theatrical director, are creating Lyric’s first new Traviata in 20 years, along with Riccardo Hernandez (sets), Cait O’Connor (costumes/debut), Marcus Doshi (lighting/debut), and Austin McCormick (choreography/debut).

The production will reveal Violetta “behind the scenes of her own life, as someone who can’t quite keep up with the scale of her own existence,” says O’Connor. She calls Violetta’s first-act party “‘Victorian going for Baroque’ – the lens is that of 1865, with an urgent fantasy at work. It’s a bit of a mad mock-court, and the guests are pulling together a vision of Versailles. Their world is powdered over, playful and decadent – sugary till your teeth ache.” Of the lovers, she says “the connection is immediate and honest, far from the advertised dream of Paris.” In Act Three “we are introduced to the underside of the illusion, and the inherent violence of Violetta’s world is revealed. Flora’s party is dark and dangerous; fantasy has turned to hallucination. The scale of the clothes becomes more about shadow and obscurity. The colors come from the iridescent spectrum you see around the edges of crows’ feathers, or the rainbow of an oil slick. We’ll see the world start to unwind, like a music-box. The fractures make it beautiful.” 

“In Verdi, every sound is connected to a word,” says Zanetti. “He was incredibly careful to create the right musical expression to convey the emotion.” His first meeting with Arbus completely changed his point of view on La traviata, and he praises her approach to the characters’ psychology. Zanetti adds that Anthony Freud encouraged them to “underline aspects of the story” that a male director might overlook. “Violetta is not a [protagonist] like we’ve seen before in Verdi. She’s a complete antiheroine, and that’s interesting to explore – the money connected with power, the world of the new bourgeoisie. If you consider Violetta from this point of view you see her fragility, and what the father and son do to her with their macho mentality.

La traviata is an opera of conversation,” Zanetti maintains. “Take the big duet between Violetta and Alfredo’s father – there’s a sense of continuous oppression. He’s very traditional in his line, very legato, while there’s a completely new way of singing for Violetta: her phrases sound short of breath, representing her astonishment at being confronted and judged – she’ll lose everything! Her way of singing is fragmented. It’s the first time this was done. This duet is like an Ingmar Bergman movie, like having a camera pointed at the faces of the actors – it’s emotions and words, nothing else. This opera is a revolution, definitely.”

Freud encouraged his team to restore the usual cuts, “and he’s so right,” says Zanetti. “The repetitions [in the duet] are part of Germont’s character, representing his pedantry and stubbornness.” Violetta’s coloratura singing in Act One, Zanetti notes, indicates “her hysteria, madness, difficulties, and depth of thought. Certain words are repeated; they have to sound like an altered state of mind. With tuberculosis, you don’t feel bad, even with blood in your mouth. Victims are tired and weak, but can have incredible moments of euphoria and strength, as Violetta does in the final scene, when she’s full of life suddenly and then dies.” 

Marina Rebeka has created a sensation with her debuts at the Salzburg Festival, the Metropolitan Opera, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and other major international venues, winning praise for her “multicolored, passionate soprano” and “blazing coloratura.” She embodies an ideal combination of youth and experience for the role, having portrayed Violetta in many prestigous houses, including her triumphant Covent Garden debut in 2010. Tenor Joseph Calleja, among the top tenors on the international scene, wowed Chicago as Alfredo in his company debut (2007) and rocked the house again as Rodolfo in Lyric’s recent La bohème. Baritone Quinn Kelsey (a Ryan Opera Center alumnus) has made his mark internationally as Verdi’s Rigoletto, Amonasro/Aida, Ezio/Atilla, and Count di Luna/Il trovatore. He portrayed Paolo in Lyric’s recent Simon Boccanegra.

Many Traviata productions update the story to another era; Lyric’s is sumptuously designed and will fully inhabit its own time. To Anthony Freud, “the most radical approach is to give it its specific period setting, as I’ve encouraged Arin to do.”

And indeed, she has. “Because the opera rests so deeply on 19th-century bourgeois concepts of morality,” Arbus explains, “it’s been important to gain an understanding of the values of the world that Verdi is depicting, and to understand the life and trade of a Parisian courtesan of that time. There really isn’t an equivalent in our world. That’s an aspect of Traviata that’s challenging to convey to contemporary audiences, but it’s crucial.

“The music reveals the story very specifically, depicting a beautiful love destroyed by a petty, cruel world,” Arbus observes. “The chorus reveals the world from which Violetta tries to escape – one of excess, debauchery, superficiality, and disease. She has digested the values of her world, which destroy her. We have to bring to life those values so the audience can understand the pressures Violetta experiences.” Beneath her elegant demimonde façade she is, after all, “a girl who is dying. She has a fierce thirst for life in the face of death.

“Alfredo comes from a sheltered, conventional world, but he’s adventurous,” Arbus continues. “He’s never met anyone like Violetta, and he loves her despite the expectations of his family and the world. How brave! He’s naïve, impulsive, inexperienced, rebellious.” The director calls Germont “a sinister figure, but he’s actually an ordinary, bourgeois family man, which makes him dangerous – he thinks he know what’s best. He represents the moral conventions of the time, but surprisingly, he comes to love Violetta.”

As Alfredo and Violetta make their joyous, turbulent journey, together and alone, through the opera, so will Lyric’s creative team and cast, and ultimately the audience. What a privilege to rediscover something so familiar yet always revelatory. “It’s a great chance we have – Verdi’s bicentennial anniversary, a new production at Lyric, an incredible team, a wonderful orchestra and chorus, a fantastic cast,” marvels Maestro Zanetti. “We must do a fantastic job and must be devoted to it – there is no other way!”


Further Reading

Aspects of Verdi by George Martin, Limelight Editions, 1993. An enjoyable general book; sort of a series of barroom conversations with Mr. Martin.

The Cambridge Companion to Verdi edited by Scott A. Balthazar, Cambridge, 2004. Recent essays by distinguished Verdi scholars provide a broad understanding of the background of Verdi’s operas.

The Complete Operas of Verdi by Charles Osborne, Da Capo Press 1988. A longtime favorite on the subject by one of opera’s master scholars.

The Life of Verdi by John Rosselli, Cambridge University Press, 2000. An excellent shorter account of Verdi’s life.

The Operas of Verdi by Julian Budden, Clarendon Press, 1992 (three volumes). The standard reference work on Verdi’s operas, magisterial and unsurpassed.

Verdi by Julian Budden, Schirmer, 1996. Distills the essence of Budden’s incomparable threevolume study into a single affordable book and includes the author’s insights into the nonoperatic works.

Verdi: A Biography by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, Oxford University, 1993. The most complete, up-to-date source in English.

La Traviata Audio Preview

Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.


La Traviata Discovery Series

A tale of a courtesan with a heart of gold and a young man from a proper family, who are forced to deal with a very cruel world. Marina Rebeka (Violetta), Joseph Calleja (Alfredo), and Quinn Kelsey (Germont) join conductor Massimo Zanetti and director Arin Arbus to discuss this Verdi masterpiece.

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La Traviata Commentary

La Traviata
by Giuseppe Verdi

© 2013/14 Lyric Opera Commentaries 

Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by Mark Travis, Producer.


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