How Verdi uses music to bring characters and places to life in La traviata

Jump to: Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4



Key Stage 3

  • Play the clip. Ask pupils to take notes on the excerpt they hear in terms of the elements of music with a particular focus on describing the structure. Ask the students to share their thoughts in partners or groups.  

  • At this point you should explain that it is a cavatina in two parts (slow section, fast section) with an interruption in the middle.


  • Play the sequence again and this time, without explaining the narrative, ask them to write a short piece of creative writing that fits with the music and explains the changes in emotion. The students may choose which style of writing suits best including poetry, narrative or essay.

  • In mixed-ability groups, ask your pupils to choose one of their stories (or combine them if desired) and create their own simple composition using any available instruments, making sure to represent changes of emotion in the music. Allow time for the students to perform their compositions to the class and discuss constructively.


Key Stage 3

  • For homework ask pupils to research the plot of La traviata and discover the true meaning of the excerpt they listened to. Write a short account, using musical terms, of why the music is successful and how it compares to their own version of the stor

  • In a further lesson, continue to explore the cavatina. Pupils should research the terms recitative, aria and cabaletta and compare the structure and musical devices they identify.

Key Stage 4

  • Initiate a discussion on the impact of opera being completely sung. What are the advantages or disadvantages? Why not have passages of dialogue as in a musical?

  • Play the clip, explaining that it is a cavatina with recitative, aria and cabaletta, and that this is the standard form.
  • Explain the meaning of the libretto. In groups, using appropriate musical terms, discuss the characteristics of each section and why they are appropriate to the emotion of the character, concluding in a class discussion.

  • Now with knowledge of the form, play the clip again. Focus on the relationship between the voices, this should be extended into a full analysis of the extract.


Key Stage 4

  • For homework, research an opera composed by Mozart and spend time listening to a section of recitative. What are its musical characteristics? How does it compare with the Verdi? What is the instrumentation? What is the pace of the text? Write a short piece of prose to address the differences.

  • In a subsequent lesson, in groups or individually, compose a short section of recitative. Write a short conversation between two characters and set to music over a simple harmonic structure (either composed by them or provided, depending on ability).

More resources

La traviata interactive opera guide - learn more about the music, story and characters in Verdi's opera

La traviata clips on YouTube

La traviata at Glyndebourne Tour 2018 - see La traviata on stage at Glyndebourne and around the country

La traviata: Behind the Curtain - in autumn 2018 Glyndebourne invites you behind the scenes of this heart-breaking musical love-story

La traviata podcast - Katie Derham explores one of the greatest love stories ever told in opera