La Traviata


We returned to Steinbach after a lengthy stay in Arizona and found we had arrived. We arrived to the land of cold and  high culture. Actually, I am a bit like Goebbels who said that when he hears the word “culture” he reaches for his gun. I went to see La Traviata with my sister-in-law, Huguette and our friend Lorraine. Chris cleaned her gun. I sword I would never go to see an opera. I was that way until one day I found myself alone with another lawyer—Reeh Taylor—on a road trip to Brandon. He loved opera and was evangelical about it. He persuaded me that I should try it. At least once. With deep reluctance I agreed. At least I pretended I would give it a try. I am not sure I meant it. Perhaps I said it to appease his zeal.

Then my sister-in-law Huguette a much more cultured person than me, invited me to join her for an opera in Winnipeg. It was La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini. I would not say I was hooked, but I grudgingly admitted this was not all bad. Then my cultured sister-in-law invited to sign up for a season pass. I said that was absurd. Not an entire year of opera!  Then she explained that in Winnipeg (the hinterland) a season of opera meant 2 operas. That seemed at least barely tolerable. So I agreed. I found I liked the next two operas as well. The rest is history. I have become a mild fan—not a zealot—of opera.

This year we saw La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi  when we returned to Manitoba. This may now  be my favourite opera. At least it was my favourite opera performance. Of course, you must recognize, that I know less about opera, than I know about other musical forms. And that is not much.

The main character is Violetta Valéry played by the angelic Angle Blue. Her voice is actually much more powerful than that word would suggest. Ms. Blue was sensational.

Violetta is keenly aware that she will soon die. She is worn out from a scandalous life on the stage. The word traviata, I was told, means “the corrupt one.” Violetta is sick and believes not entirely without justification, yet without societal sanction, that pleasure is the best medicine. She lives in “whirlwind of joy.” However, her world is profoundly shaken when she meets Alfredo a young man who, in true operatic style falls instantly in passionate love with her. Violetta  has always embodied ‘free love’. The stage is set for a typically momentous opposition of values. And of course, passionate love wins out. Passion always seems to win in opera. Opera without passion is like a painting without a frame. Dry tinder.

Yet the powerful emotions conflict as they always do, especially in opera. The second scene contained what the commentator Sarah Jo Kirsch called “the saddest scene in all of opera” in her pre-show chat. Violetta sacrifices pleasure, then her possessions, and finally the loved one himself. All for the sake of worthless bourgeois respectability, that bugaboo of all that is good.   Of course the sacrifice becomes sacred. After all the two words  not by accident share the same root.  The corrupt one sacrifices love for her loved one’s sister—the pure one whom she has never met. The corrupt one demonstrates profound moral power that dwarfs the sterile absent purity.

Of course as so often happens in opera, the end is tragic. She is reunited with the lover. Violetta announces her pain is gone. “I am reborn. I will live,” she gushes.  And then she dies. Only in opera.

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