A Traviata for All Time

La Scala’s December 7 season premiere of La Traviata made headlines in Italy — large type exclamations of how the director was boo’ed. The director’s intrepid vision was to demonstrate that Verdi’s love story need not be trapped in a 19th century Paris boudoir, but whose characters and emotions resonated in an ultra-chic, 20th-century Milanese apartment of recent years.

The critics were specific: the fault was not in the performers (especially Violetta) but in the so-called unnecessary contemporary context, which was even perceived as an insult to the great composer.


La Scala audiences have always been a tough crowd — even in Verdi’s day. But in 2013, Verdi’s opera was still deeply affecting its audiences: Violetta’s unconventional lifestyle creates social tension, no matter what style chaise she collapses onto. By making it a modern scene between contemporaries — substitute “escort” for courtesan — the director broke wide open the opera’s inherently passionate and deeply moving story. Perhaps this is a true tribute to Verdi’s majestic artistry, a demonstration that it transcends time, costume and backdrop.

In this edition, we present Verdi’s story through his (direct and indirect) influences and interpreters: from Franco Zeffirelli, Shakespeare and Visconti to the generations of musicians who reside in the composer’s self-proclaimed “best work,” his home for the aged, Casa di Riposo.

-Claudia Palmira Acunto