La Traviata

“Last Saturday was my first experience going to the Met! Although I love theatre and have seen quite a few stage performances, I had had very little exposure to operas prior to the trip. I know now that it is definitely something I want to continue seeing in the future!

The performance we saw, La Traviata, portrays the beautiful, heart-wrenching story of a well-known courtesan, Violetta, who falls in love with Alfredo. After Alfredo has wooed her and they move in together, Violetta is paid a visit from Alfredo’s father, who insists that she abandon her love for his son to avoid tarnishing their family reputation. Though heartbroken, Violetta ultimately agrees, and attends a party that evening with her previous lover. When Alfredo learns where Violetta has gone, a deceptive conversation with his father leads him to believe that she has decided to leave him for her former lover. He angrily goes to the party and verbally humiliates her, after which she faints. At this point in the story, a grave truth is learned: Violetta’s tuberculosis has worsened, and she doesn’t have much longer to live. Alfredo, realizing that Violetta really does love him, returns to her to ask for forgiveness. They sing a duet together, after which she suddenly declares that all her symptoms have disappeared, and she feels well again. A second later, she dies in Alfredo’s arms.

The appearance of the set and costumes was spectacular. The set was very ornate, and the costumes were very colorful and extravagant. When a large group of actors were on the stage at one time, the sight of all of their wonderful costumes against the beautiful set was really striking. I also really liked the use of lighting in the second act, while Violetta is at the party with her former lover. It seemed like the light was a bit dimmer on stage, but light from behind the set shown through the decorative panels, creating a romantic, enchanting scene. Our opera glasses allowed us to see details up close, but I found that I preferred watching without them, as I could better see each scene holistically. In hindsight, my assumption is that operas are designed to be seen and enjoyed from a distance!

I was a bit worried about not being able to follow the storyline, so on the way to New York, I read a short synopsis of the performance. Although knowing the gist of the plot definitely helped, following the plot was not as difficult as I thought it would be! There were surtitles available (on the backs of every chair) in a few major languages, which allowed us to follow along with what the characters were singing. I was happy that operas seem to be much more understandable, which surely broadens their audience!

I actually enjoyed playing around with the language of the surtitles throughout the performance. Last semester, I took a class about translation with Professor Bellos, and one of the units we discussed was subtitles and surtitles. One of the issues with surtitles that we talked about was the challenge of writing accurate translations, fitting them into the small space, and making sure they match up with what’s currently being said. Though the English surtitles were easy to read and certainly poetic, I figured they were a bit removed from the original meaning of the words due to the language differences between English and Italian. The Spanish surtitles, however, seemed much closer to the original Italian—partly because the two languages share many cognates, and also because translating between those two languages often produces a nearly identical version of the original. I ultimately preferred using the Spanish surtitles because it was much easier for me to pick out some of the Italian words in the music. Comparing the

Spanish and English surtitles, the English titles were noticeably shorter than those in Italian. This was expected to me, as Spanish tends to have longer sentences than English does.

Finally, I really enjoyed the music! I always appreciate theatrical performances where all the music is live, particularly because as a musician myself, I can imagine how much of a challenge that can be. Every performance isn’t the same musically—the singers may slightly alter certain parts, or even forget a line. Similarly, many things could vary instrumentally, such as the conductor leading a slightly slower or faster tempo. It seems that everyone has to listen closely, cooperate, and be flexible! Nevertheless, I certainly didn’t catch any mistakes, and I thought that the musicians did a really great job playing the pieces with a lot of energy and emotion. The music during the final duet between Alfredo and Violetta was particularly magnificent, up to the final dramatic moment when she died. The opera certainly wouldn’t be the same without all of the talented musicians in the orchestra pit!

All in all, I had an excellent experience seeing La Traviata, and I look forward to seeing more operas! (Although I definitely wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to see La Traviata again)” -Ashley Roundtree (’21), Collective Member