La Traviata, Opera by G. Verdi
Verdi’s La traviata has figured on the repertoire of this opera house ever since its foundation, when the new company co-opted the production of Prague’s German Estates Theatre. It then served chiefly as a vehicle for guest-appearances by illustrious international singers, including among others the legendary Australian soprano, Nellie Melby (April 18, 1900). The first authentic new staging was mounted by the New German Theatre (today’s Prague State Opera) on November 9, 1919, under the baton of Georg Széll, followed by a string of further productions, in 1930, 1934, 1945, 1959, 1979, and most recently, on October 7, 1982, which was directed by Ladislav Štros, with sets designed by Vladimír Nývlt and costumes by Josef Jelínek. That production has since ranked alongside the Prague State Opera’s most successful titles, by the end of the 2005/2006 season reaching a total of 487 performances. The new staging will be taken care of by an international creative team headed by the French director, Arnaud Bernard, whose projects in recent years have included productions of, among others, the operas, Roméo et Juliette at Chicago, with Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu (1999); L’elisir d’amore at the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, with Marcelo Alvarez (2001); Lakmé at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo; and Roméo et Juliette in Tokyo (2003); Luisa Miller at the Nationale Reise Opera in the Netherlands; Roméo et Juliette in Beijing; and Le Roi de Lahore in Venice (2004); and most recently, during the current season, La Bohème at the Arena of Verona. The production’s music direction was commissioned to the Italian conductor, Enrico Dovico, a permanent guest conductor of the Prague State Opera.
In La traviata, to the libretto from the novel by Alexandre Dumas the Younger, La Dame aux camélias, telling the story of Marie Duplessis, a noted courtesan and idol of the 1840s’ Parisian society, Verdi in fact created history’s first major opera dealing with a contemporary social theme. This was only one of the work’s several aspects that proved unpalatable for the audience at its premiere in Venice, in 1853: beyond that, they were similarly shocked by the principal part there being assigned to a courtesan, and that moreover she was portrayed as a heroine. Consequently, the premiere ended by a fiasco. Soon thereafter, nonetheless, Verdi’s La traviata scored its first triumphs, and ever since then has remained a hugely loved repertoire staple.