La traviata

Musical highlights

Explore the musical moments to look out for in La traviata

'Brindisi' ('The Drinking Song')

Alfredo’s bubbling Brindisi (drinking song) is effervescent as a glass of champagne. Musically it’s the symbol of the opera’s good times, the joyous hedonism of Act I.

The tone for this energetic, infectious drinking song is set by the repeated use of a wide, rising interval. These leaps are not only memorable but suggest youth, passion and excess. This impression is heightened by the ornamentation – the little turns and grace-notes that decorate the vocal line – which give it a throwaway brilliance and a feel of bubbling joy.

The lilting waltz rhythm and strumming orchestral chords give the song its lively, extrovert character, which contrasts with the stiff, stilted waltz at the close of Act II that reflects the new tension between Violetta and Alfredo.

Although the aria’s songlike melody has the character and feel of a popular song, the melody is, in fact, Verdi’s own – inspired by, rather than directly borrowed from, the many similar drinking songs of his day.

'Addio del passato'

Violetta’s Act III aria returns to the waltz rhythm of the opening. Her words renounce her youthful dreams of love and accept her approaching death, but the music tells a different story, harking back to the dances and festivity of Act I.

This aria feels fragmented and choppy, as though the consumptive heroine cannot muster strength and breath enough to sustain longer expression. The repetition built into the melody also hints at a woman returning insistently to an idea she cannot (or is not willing to) relinquish.

The awkward rhythmic stresses of this aria (which don’t always fall on the expected beat of the bar) transform a dance into a stumbling, lurching affair – a dance still, but this time a dance of death. A solo oboe echoes and supports the voice throughout the aria – perhaps representing Violetta’s musical soul, already separate from the body she leaves behind.

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