Verdi’s “La Traviata” in the Staatstheater Darmstadt: Beyond Paradise

Ahen the mood at the festival has reached its climax and everyone sings Giuseppe Verdi’s indestructible drinking song, Alfredo Germont puts on the violet of Lent and lifts the chalice as if it contained altar wine. It will not be long before this hubris is followed by a more cautious approach to religious symbols. Because Violetta, the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “La Traviata”, is terminally ill, huge X-rays of her tuberculous lungs leave no doubt about it. And that’s how she goes in the party world of the first act, like director Karsten Wiegand in the state theater Darmstadt in his production of Giuseppe Verdi’s melodrama, which premiered in Venice in 1853, shows, at a distance, sings her coloraturas on the bridge in front of the orchestra pit.

These are distinctive, powerful images with many Christian connotations, which Wiegand, as in his 2011 production at the Nationaltheater Weimar, contrasts with the really earthly goings-on in Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto based on the novel “La Dame aux camélias” by Alexandre Dumas. When Violetta, the Parisian courtesan, retires to the country with Alfredo, a huge painting with paradise motifs by Hieronymus Bosch the wide open stage of the Darmstadt Great House; likewise, the trees of life and knowledge tower into the scene. Even a droll wooden flock of sheep adorns the heavenly place that Violetta briefly finds here. As is well known, happiness does not last long, Alfredo’s father succeeds in persuading her to give up the relationship, which is not befitting of his son, for the sake of family honor. Verdi credits the father with the most sensitive aria in the opera, in Wiegand’s view the renunciation could also be motivated by the fact that Violetta recognizes the father as the son she loves and who looks almost deceptively like him here.

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