1. During the 2015-16 season, La traviata was the most-performed opera in the world. According to Operabase.com, Verdi’s opera received 4,190 performances in 869 different productions across the globe! (The runner-up? Mozart’s The Magic Flute trails behind with just 3,310 performances in 561 productions.)
2. La traviata is the only opera Verdi ever set in his own time period (circa 1850). However, even as Verdi was still writing the score, rumors began to circulate about the opera’s scandalous content. Fearing either a moral outcry or an outpouring of immorality, Venetian censors forced Verdi to shift the setting back by nearly 100 years for the premiere performance. Even Verdi’s supporters agreed with the censors. Musicologist Abramo Basevi (and Verdi’s contemporary) wrote, “Verdi was unable to resist the temptation of setting to music, and so making more attractive and acceptable, a filthy and immoral subject, universally loved because the vice it represents is universal.” Today, though, most “traditional” productions are set in the mid-nineteenth century, just as Verdi intended.
3. La traviata was a major influence on Baz Luhrmann’s popular film Moulin Rouge, starring Nicole Kidman as the courtesan Satine and Ewan McGregor as the young poet Christian. Moulin Rouge hit the silver screens in 2001, and was nominated for eight Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Actress). The story closely follows the plot of Verdi’s opera, and adds the “top hits” of modern pop music into the mix. If you haven’t seen this cult classic yet, you’ll definitely want to watch it before La traviata opens on May 19!
4. La traviata may have inspired countless works of art after its premiere, but the opera itself is actually based on a novel based in turn on a true story. The real-life Violetta was a courtesan named Marie Duplessis, born in Normandy, France in 1824. Although her first job was working as a seamstress, a teenage Marie realized quickly that there was more money to be made by taking wealthy lovers. As her string of lovers became increasingly prominent, Marie became one of the most influential women in Paris. Her salons were the talk of the town, attended by only the richest Parisians. Sadly, Marie developed consumption (i.e. tuberculosis) and died penniless at the age of 23. Her legacy lives on through Verdi’s beloved opera!
5. It may not be a coincidence that Verdi’s most famous opera is set in Paris. Did you know that Verdi was technically born a Frenchman? He was born in October 1813 in a village near Busseto, which was then a part of the First French Empire. (France annexed the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza in 1808.) Although we know him today as Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi, the composer’s first given name was Joseph Fortunin François.