The Overture to the opera is a beautifully expressive, nostalgic snapshot of Violetta's life, in reverse order, beginning with a tender depiction of her dying moments in act 3, followed by her ardent love song to Alfredo (Amami, Alfredo), a theme that becomes intertwined with the sparkling rhythms of the frivolous Parisian demimonde in which we first meet her.
Orchestra & Chorus of The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Sir Georg Solti.
Libiamo ne' lieti calici is probably the most recognizable tune in La traviata (and there is an inexhaustible supply of hummable melodies in this opera!). A rousing, absolutely irresistible song, this is a Brindisi – a toast, inviting everyone to drink. It begins with Alfredo raising a glass to wine and love:
Let's drink from the joyous chalice ...
Let's drink to love's sweet tremors To those eyes that pierce the heart.
Let's drink to love – to wine that warms our kisses
Violetta, a little less naïve, and a lot more cynical, chimes in:
Let us enjoy life, For the pleasures of love are swift and fleeting
As a flower that lives and dies and can be enjoyed no more.
Lucia Popp and Placido Domingo
1986 performance for Queen Elizabeth
Duet: Un dì, felice, eterea – One Happy Day: During her Act 1 party, Violetta suddenly feels faint and remains behind as the guests begin to dance. Alfredo takes the opportunity to express his concern for her – and his love.
Un dì, felice, eterea, Mi balenaste innante,
E da quel dì tremante Vissi d'ignoto amor.
Di quell'amor ch'è palpito Dell'universo intero,
Misterioso, altero, Croce e delizia al cor.
One happy day You flashed lightly into my life;
And since that day I've lived In tremulous possession
Of that unspoken love, The pulse of the whole world,
Mysterious, unattainable, The torment and delight of my heart.
We will hear Alfredo's haunting Di quell'amor again as Violetta rejects the thought of love later in Act 1 and in the final act as she is dying. But for now, Alfredo's idealistic ardour is countered by Violetta's wordly cynicism as she tells him with little coloratura frills that if he wants love he won't find it with her.
Placido Domingo as Alfredo and Teresa Stratas as Violetta
1983 Motion picture directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Conductor: James Levine
Sempre libera degg'io: Violetta has been pondering Alfredo's declaration of love and wonders if he could actually be the man she could love (Ah, fors'è lui). But she decides it is folly to even hope such a thing.
What madness! This dream is hopeless!
Poor woman, alone and abandoned in this populous desert
They call Paris! What can I hope? What should I do?
Enjoy myself! Plurge into the whirlpool Of pleasure and drown there!
Then she launches into a brilliant coloratura aria, her manifesto in favour of freedom and pleasure.
Sempre libera degg'io Folleggiar di gioia in gioia –
Always free, I flutter from pleasure to pleasure .
Violetta mightily resists the temptation of love, even as she hears Alfredo in the distance singing of love – Mysterious, unattainable, The torment and delight of my heart.
Beverly Sills as violetta, with tenor, Henry Price.
1976 Wolf Trap Festival, Julius Rudel, conductor
Amami, Alfredo : As the heartbroken Violetta is writing her farewell note to Alfredo, he enters suddenly, surprising her. We now hear again a theme from the overture, as Violetta begs Alfredo to love her as much as she loves him.
Renée Fleming as Violetta and Ramón Vargas as Alfredo
2008. Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine
Di Provenza il mar – "The Sea of Provence": After reading Violetta's letter, Alfredo is in despair. Germont tries to console his son with reminders of family life back home in Provence. Germont's old-fashioned, hymnlike aria evokes the happy childhood home, the family values, and the sense of honour that he represents.
Sesto Bruscantini as Germont and Franco Bonisolli as Alfredo
1973. Chorus of the Berlin State Opera, Staatskapelle Berlin, Lamberto Gardelli conductor