Program booklet »La traviata«

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LA TRAVIATA Giuseppe Verdi




Roots in belcanto, branches in the future → Giacomo Sagripanti


The director as a storyteller → Bogdan Roščić talks to La traviata director Simon Stone


How the camellia became a violet → Oliver Láng


Popular despite everything → Andreas Láng


Illness as Metaphor → Susan Sontag


You don’t post a bloody handkerchief on instagram → Christina Böck


LA TRAVIATA → Melodramma in three acts Music Giuseppe Verdi Libretto Francesco Maria Piave based on a work by Alexandre Dumas fils

Orchestra 2 flutes, 1 piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 cimbasso, kettledrums, percussion, violin I, violin II, viola, cello, double bass Stage music harp, 2 flutes, 1 piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trombones, percussion, violin I, violin II, cello, double bass Length 2 hours 45 minutes, including 2 intervals Autograph Ricordi Archive World première 6 March 1853, Teatro La Fenice, Venice Première of the second version 6 May 1854, Teatro S. Benedetto, Venice Première at the Wiener Hofoper 11 March 1876

SYNOPSIS Act 1 Violetta Valéry, a high-priced object of desire in Paris society, is out wildly partying again after a long sickness, but only seemingly recovered. Alfredo, a young man from the country, sings and toasts to the praises of true love. However, Violetta confesses to a different lifestyle of carefree enjoyment of life. In the middle of the wild party she suddenly passes out. After she withdraws from the crowd, Alfredo admits his love for her which Violetta does not want to accept: she can only promise him friendship but not love. But quickly she is overwhelmed by a conflict of feelings: should she give up her life now and accept her feelings?

Act 2 Violetta and Alfredo are now a couple and have retreated to the countryside. Since then Violetta has accumulated large debts which she is keeping secret from Alfredo. When Alfredo hears from Violetta’s housemaid Annina that she has sold her belongings in order to further finance their shared household, he quickly returns to Paris to do his part and provide for them the necessary means. During Alfredo’s absence, his father demands that Violetta end the relationship in order to not endanger the family’s honor and therefore engagement of his daughter. After a long fight, Violetta consents and sacrifices her own happiness for the sake of Alfredo’s sister. She writes a farewell letter, avoids his return and secretly travels to Paris by herself. After he has read her delivered letter, Alfredo suspects Baron Douphol has stolen Violetta away from him. When he finds invitation for her to a Parisian party, he follows her in order to take his revenge. ← Previous pages: KS Juan Diego Flórez as Alfredo and Pretty Yende as Violetta, 2021



At the orgiastic party, feelings are riding high. Alfredo wins at gambling and provokes Douphol. Violetta tries to prevent a further confrontation and asks to talk with Alfredo privately, in which she however withholds from him the true reason for their breakup. When Alfredo pressures her, she admits to him that she loves the Baron. Filled with rage and disappointment, Alfredo insults Violetta as roughly and dirty as possible – horrifying every­one in the room.

Act 3 The impoverished Violetta is close to dying. Receiving a letter from Alfredo’s father, she hears that Alfredo now knows the truth and understands her sacrifice. But as the lover finally arrives, together with his father who has also hurried over, they find only someone who is dying.



Giacomo Sagripanti


The première conductor on La traviata

La traviata is one of the composer’s so-called “trilogia popolare”, together with Rigoletto and Il trovatore. These three operas already show Verdi’s mastery, particularly the differentiated psychological characterization, but also show their bel canto origins – the style of the operas of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. La traviata is an echo of this era, and the opera has its roots there. Violetta’s cabaletta “Sempre libera” – the fast section of her Act I aria, could be by Bellini. In many respects, it actually resembles Elvira’s famous cabaletta in I puritani. For the conductor, the main thing in bel canto is to understand the voices – their breathing, their sound, how they carry. You can cast Violetta and Alfredo with somewhat lighter or heavier voices – both are possible, but this results in different tempi and different balances. You can’t set the tempo without regard to the voices. And you always need an elastic style of conducting, breathing in the accompaniment as well. Besides this focus on the voice, I find a second aspect particularly important. Verdi structures his music through so-called “parole sceniche”. This is a term of art that you could roughly translate as “scenic keywords”. These words show what the dialogue or aria is about, and the music picks them out like a spotlight. Even if you don’t understand every word, the keyword is always set so that you can’t miss it. The parola scenica is like a headline for the music in question. Verdi explicitly asked his librettists to give him these keywords so that he could respond to them musically. Puccini worked in a completely different way, he composed every moment, like a film. By contrast, Verdi composed extended passages. For example, when Violette is talking to Germont and decides to sacrifice her love for the sake of Alfredo’s sister, she sings: Dite alla giovine – sì bella e pura Ch’avvi una vittima – della sventura, Cui resta un unico – raggio di bene Che a lei il sacrifica – e che morrà! Tell the young woman, so beautiful, so pure, that there is an unfortunate creature with only a ray of happiness left to her, which she is giving to her before she dies! The music here is very intimate, plain and personal, like a prayer. At first, you might wonder why there is this beautiful music when Violetta is talking about Alfredo’s sister, who she doesn’t know. But then you see that she’s comparing herself with the sister, she recognizes herself in the young woman who should be given the chance which she never had. “Pura” (pure) is the parola scenica here. I told the soprano she should pronounce “pura” as if it had three p’s at the start, to emphasize it. 7


Another example is the duet between Violetta and Alfredo. The music emphasizes Alfredo’s melody “Di quell’amor”. The repeated keyword here is “amor”, “love”. The music expresses this too. The fact that Violetta is actually asking Alfredo to forget her is almost lost sight of. We understand through the music that her rejection is a flirt, a game, perhaps serious hesitation on her part – but actually the two have been in love for some time. The melody, incidentally, is one of the two themes from the overture, it becomes her passionate demand “Amami, Alfredo” (“Love me, Alfredo”) in Act II, and we hear it again when Violetta reads the letter and is waiting for Alfredo in the last act. This is the love motif of this opera. La traviata is full of waltzes, which were very popular at the time in Parisian society. The fast waltz represents the pleasures of the elegant salons Violetta’s “Sempre libera” is a fast waltz, as is Alfredo’s drinking song at the start. I’ve worked with the orchestra to make this waltz sound a little more “Italian”, even though it’s near to the Viennese waltz. But it’s still slightly different from what’s played at a New Year’s concert, a little finer and more sophisticated, if you can get away with saying that in Vienna. “Addio del passato” is also in three-four time, which makes it close to a slow waltz, even if there was no such thing at the time it was written. It’s the sad, slower version of the model, used to look back on happy days. As a result, you could describe La traviata as a sort of metamorphosis of the waltz. Violetta is the centre of this opera, the sun in the solar system of characters. All the others only react to her, nobody changes as much as Violetta. Rigoletto was the first time Verdi had focused on a single character in this way, and in La traviata he does so with the female protagonist. By comparison, the others are pretty two-dimensional characters. At the end of the opera, there has been hardly any change in Alfredo compared to the beginning. Flora, Annina and Douphol are just the same. The situation is rather different with Germont. In the duet, he has the opportunity to recognize what a special woman Violetta is. From the moment she says that she is going to die, he feels very attached to her. But this doesn’t change is behaviour, he goes, leaving her alone. Here, he’s making the same mistake as Alfredo – possibly an even greater one, because he’s understood this woman. Alfredo is young and naïve, he’s not aware of the situation – Germont knows what he’s doing. He’s also the one who writes Violetta the letter at the end. But his change comes too late. He is a simple, slow man, which is reflected in his music. His aria “Di Provenza” is very plain. He sings in the old bel canto style, and even the cabaletta is slow. Germont’s cabaletta is often cut, but it’s very important because it makes the difference between the two even clearer. She is a modern, sensitive woman, he is an old man, with simple ideas. The cabaletta in the last duet between Alfredo and Violetta is also often cut, but not in our production. We perform it together with the second verse, because the end of the duet is particularly interesting musically. GI ACOMO SAGR IPA N T I


Back to Violetta. Her extreme psychological development is reflected in the vocalization. At the start of Act I, it’s completely light-hearted, at the end, she’s a serious woman confronting her death. This is reflected in the music, which means that you almost need three different Violettas to satisfy every moment. The Violetta at the beginning is so naïve, so free, the star of Paris, and the music sparkles like the champagne. However, there is a moment in the slow part of her first aria which becomes more serious and more lyric, when she considers that Alfredo could be the right one for a serious relationship. Here, the soprano has to use a different vocal colour. However, the decisive change is in the duet with Germont, when she sings “morrò”, “I shall die”. Here, it is no longer a question for Violetta whether she will be happy or not – she has reached her decision. It’s as if she aged ten years in a moment, after which she is a different woman, including vocally. In Act III, she identifies with death, and her death in particular is most unusually composed. Violetta gives Alfredo her picture in farewell and calls on him to marry someone else after her death. This is the beginning of her journey to the other world. For this, we hear the terrifying funeral march rhythm in the orchestra, which makes clear the finality of the situation. Right at the end, when she’s leaving this world, Violetta stops singing. Her last words, “Cessarano gli spasimi” (“The spasms are passing”) are marked “parlando”, but this isn’t the normal Italian recitative, even if Verdi has shown the pitches of the notes. He has tried with the help of the notes to show as exactly as possible what he wants, but here we’re pushing the boundaries of music. This is a challenge to the soprano’s acting ability, as she has to speak not only over the music, but with the music. As a conductor, I can’t help her. This makes me think of the term Gesamtkunstwerk – this is uniting music, staging and text in a very special moment which is more than just theatre. This has nothing more to do with bel canto, it’s a musical foretaste of the future. It’s an incredible moment, and one of the reasons why we still perform La traviata.



THE DIRECTOR AS A STORYTELLER Bogdan Roščić talks to La traviata director Simon Stone

BOGDAN ROŠČIĆ Simon, the La traviata première is your Vienna State Opera début,

but this isn’t the first time you’ve been in the Vienna State Opera. There’s a very personal story connected to your first visit. It was 27 December, 1994. I was 11, and I wasn’t in the standing section, we’d actually splurged for tickets at 300 Schillings each. The opera was The Magic Flute in a production by Otto Schenk, and I can remember how magical the evening was. More than anything else, it was the last holiday we spent in Europe before we moved to Australia, shortly before my father’s death – our last holiday with all the family. So I have a lot of memories associated with this visit to the opera. When the auditorium filled with music in the first orchestral stage rehearsal a couple of days ago, I had a flashback to my 11-year-old self. SIMON STONE


← KS Juan Diego Flórez as Alfredo, 2021


As a director in the theatre you don’t only stage, you rewrite familiar pieces. This isn’t the process of associative deconstruction which is pretty much in fashion now, and which I think is partly destroying theatre, it’s about translating eternal material and narratives into a modern language, modern realities and sensibilities. An approach like this to direction isn’t possible in opera. So what’s the appeal of directing music theatre? BOGDAN ROŠČIĆ TALKS TO LA TRAVIATA DIRECTOR SIMON STONE

I think that music is always timeless, in contrast to language. Gregorian chant, music that was creates over a thousand years ago, still speaks to us and has meaning for us. This is an abstract form of communications, something emerging from the soul, instinctive, true. By contrast, language is changing constantly, within a decade, a generation! If we only spoke slang, it would be virtually impossible for generations to understand each other. Language is constantly renewing itself, including through different influences like migration and cultural mixing. And this is the beauty of language, it’s always a section of real life. ST


And you’re not put off by a link between an old version of Italian which wasn’t spoken any more by the time of the world première, and the music – as it is in La traviata?

No, because the music is the translation. The only thing I have to do is make it accessible for the audience. So they can see how modern the piece is. If you underpin the – linguistically antiquated – libretto too firmly with the staging, it can be a bit distracting. But Verdi was a total radical – and we show this as well. ST


In the theatre, you choose material which is valid for all ages. The idea of a “fallen woman” isn’t shocking for us, any more than promis­ cuity or paid sex, either in the somewhat euphemistic form of the 19th century or in its modern purely transactional model. So what makes the piece so powerful today?

For me, this piece doesn’t need a prostitute to function. In fact, there’s no mention of it in the opera – except in Alfredo’s accusation in Act II when he “pays” Violetta. But that can be interpreted differently too, for example by her heavy debts which he’s paying off. With us, Violetta is absolutely not a courtesan. ST


She’s an IT girl, a capitalist in the economy of attention, has count­ less followers, she’s an influencer. In this production there’s a won­ derful vignette at the beginning when her mother tells her in a brief message to drink celery juice, which Violetta immediately translates into a product placement, not necessarily a likeable moment. Peter Handke wrote the wonderful sentence, “I live from what others don’t know about me.” With Violetta, it’s the reverse.

Yes, the social currency of the modern world is to lose your personality. Completely. And to belong to everyone else. There’s no privacy any more. And this is very close to the courtesans of the 19th century, ST



there was no privacy then either. Society uses what it wants to of you and exploits it. Until someone is empty, has no more strength, nothing. BR

That was to some extent Violetta’s digital tuberculosis. But does she want this? Does she need it? As we know, a credo of the digital era is the authenticity which naturally leads to total artificiality. People massage an image of themselves online to the point where it simply tells the world “buy me”.

I think she does all this because it gives her access to a world she has never belonged in. She grew up in poverty, in difficult circumstances. Violetta is also a celebrity for Verdi, someone everyone wants to party with. But this is worthless, because at some point everyone drops out of the game and is forgotten. There are so many stories of pop stars who were forgotten and ultimately died in a ditch unknown. ST


But while the show is on, this is a very powerful drug. Georg Franck, who coined the term “economy of attention” puts it this way. “The attention of other people is the most irresistible of all drugs. Recei­ ving it tops all other forms of income. This is why fame tops power, why every other form of wealth pales compared to celebrity.”

But you shouldn’t underestimate how much power someone like Rupert Murdoch has. He’s put governments in power and overthrown others. He’s the kingmaker, someone who makes other people celebrities – or not. Even if fame is incredibly important for participating in power games, there’s always someone above them who has power and says, you have access, and you don’t. ST


In La traviata, Violetta’s social stigma is the actual driving force be­ hind the action. If Violetta isn’t a courtesan, what’s shameful about her relationship with Alfredo?

She simply comes from the lower class. The Germonts, on the other hand, are old money, influence, power. This is something that isn’t supposed to exist any more – but it does. All over the world, just like it always has. And for people like this, it’s a bit demeaning to have someone like Violetta in the family. You can compare it with the relationship between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. ST



It was very important to you from the beginning that Violetta should be clearly recognizable as a member of a minority. I worked 30 years ago for a Vienna newspaper where one of the managers felt it was BOGDAN ROŠČIĆ TALKS TO LA TRAVIATA DIRECTOR SIMON STONE

impossible to put the world’s biggest star, Michael Jackson, on the front page – because of his skin colour. A lot’s happened since then, how virulent is the issue for you? We’re still at the beginning of the discussion in Austria. I still talk to people who think it’s all right to use the N-word. In New York, that went out back in the 1980s. But in Austria and Germany and other central European countries, these movements after the Second World War haven’t made any progress, because there was so much else to do, on the lines of “we’ll get to all that later”. But now we’re getting to it. Despite all the efforts to control immigration, Austria has also become much more multicultural. At some point, the old, European white majority is going to disappear. ST


There’s one detail I need to touch on, it’s been noted in the media. In Act II, Violetta and Alfredo are in the country, enjoying a very brief idyllic time with a clear sense that it’s going to end, and you put a cow on the stage at this point. In Paris – this Traviata is a joint pro­ duction between Paris and Vienna – there actually was a cow on stage, but that’s not possible here in Vienna because of animal pro­ tection regulations. What do you see as the force of this image?

It’s real. You understand very quickly, this image immediately puts you in the country. In the same way, we wanted to stay as close as possible to the real Paris, and in the first act we show the Joan of Arc near the Tuilleries – just the one object is enough to show you exactly where you are. ST


When I think of Billie Piper, for example, in your version of Lorcas Yerma, which was very successful in London and New York, that was phenomenal. You seldom see such a high standard of direction in opera productions. Naturally, opera also has to meet other crite­ ria, sometimes it’s cast on purely vocal terms, and the performers have their hands full managing the moves at the same time as the physical demands of singing. Do you see this as a limitation?

I think there are really singers these days who deliver performances which are realistic and natural, psychological and authen­ tic. And sing beautifully at the same time. Pretty Yende is the leading example here. Gene Kelly could do it in the 1950s, so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work in the 21st century. When Gene Kelly performs “Singin’ in the Rain”, he’s living his life while he sings. And it’s just the same with Pretty. Every singer has to find the soul within that wants to sing. And then this soul can do things very realistically at the same time. But if the act of singing is separated from ST



normal life, if it has to overcome a mental or physical barrier, it becomes diffi­ cult to unit the two. This is more a philosophical challenge. If someone has bridged this divide in their head, it’s very easy to direct them in the same way that I direct actors on the stage. But there is another difference. The incredible thing about singers is that you can give them directions in rehearsal: first we do this, then you do that, and that, and then that. They listen to you and they do it all, exactly right. This is extraordinary. Actors don’t do this. Actors don’t do this, go through all the emotional heights and depths while they’re remembering the precise timing. BR

I find the set for this La traviata particularly spectacular, it’s cha­ racterized by intensive of use of video in an innovative form. There’s a standard line of thought in the opera world that runs, “It looks good, but it distracts from the music and the action.” Neither of us agree with this.

First of all, it’s opera, not a symphony or a concert with singing. If the great originators of opera had preferred to put on concerts, they would have done so. But it was always about the blend of music and staging. That’s the great thing about it. Doing away with one aspect, cutting the staging in opera, would be depriving the art form of something fundamental. Secondly, if you tell the story really well and properly, the music makes us hear it. But if you hear the music without the drama behind it, then you’re just hearing a superficial sequence of sounds. There’s the extraordinary moment when you’re following the action and hear music for the first time that you’re familiar with in a completely different context. And that’s what happens in this opera. The overture to Act I is repeated at the start of Act III. And when you understand what the music has been foreshadowing, it breaks your heart. And this is simply the result of the close link between music and storytelling. This is why a director has to be a storyteller. Our task is to ensure that the next generation never blows opera off as irrelevant. Our task is to preserve the relevance for future audiences. ST



Stefanie Hackl

Simon Stone juggles with genres. He is constantly moving artistically between the worlds of film, theatre and opera. This flexibility demands above all the skill to set boundaries for yourself. To dive into a universe unconditionally, boundaries are essential. Because he understands each of these art forms in their specific terms. The rhythms, the images in their presentations, the freedoms in them are fundamentally different. He doesn’t have any sense of competition or principle which makes one work more important than the other. It’s the storytelling that concerns him.

Stories which have a place in our time too, which have to meet us in our present. Avoiding the historical is what revives it and makes it relevant in this moment, which is always the present. In his productions he creates worlds which make us understand the struggles that went before these stories, and the psychology in their action. How close to us they are. He wants to find the origin, the tone, the words of the work of art in opera, theatre and film, which show us that we can only understand and feel true beauty and emotion if we’re ready to see the wounds and challenges associated with them.

Oliver Láng


The creation of La traviata

Marcel Proust is said to have commented that Verdi was the first to give the story of the Lady of the Camellias the necessary style. La traviata finally reached for the soul, as Proust put it. Dumas’ version, it should be said, reached for sentiment instead. But the story goes back well before Verdi, it begins in the social environment of Paris before 1850. It begins with a woman from the lower classes, Alphonsine Plessis, born in Normandy in 1824. She comes from a broken family, is already being handed from man to man as a teenager, and arrives in Paris. Surprisingly quickly she rose to be a courtesan, men spent surprising sums for her company. We can no longer determine what accounted for the magnetism of Plessis, who soon called herself Duplessis (which sounds rather more aristocratic). In any case, she married a count, had innumerable lovers, rich and prominent. Franz Liszt was one of her suitors, as was the poet Théophile Gautier and the Count de Perregaux, who married her. Her beauty and her aura become famous, but she herself complains about the absence of true lover. Duplessis sees the world, who she has known in her childhood from its worst side, without sentimentality and with occasionally bitter realism. “Why did I sell myself? Because honest work would never have brought me the luxury which I so long for. I just wanted to discover the pleasure, delights and finery of an elegant and cultivated environment.” She writes to Liszt and refers to her advanced tuberculosis: “I have not long to live now. Take me with you on your travels. I won’t be in your way. I sleep all day, go to the theatre in the evening, and at night you can do what you like with me.” She dies at 23, her death is a social event, her belongs are auctioned, greedily plundered, primarily by those who did not recognise her while she was alive. She is buried at the Montmartre cemetery in Paris, and her gravestone is still a goal for tourist photographers. One prominent lover who has remained in the shadows is Alexandre Dumas fils, who – according to later reports – didn’t have the money to keep her. He is the one who will hide her story in a novel and a play. His novel La dame aux camélias came out a year after her death, in 1848. Dumas took people from life, known lovers, but renamed them discreetly and presented the story as a flashback. After the death of the courtesan Marguerite Gautier a younger man called Armand Duval tells the author the tragic story of his love for her. Armand is Dumas himself, Gautier is Duplessis. However, the centre of the action is the suffering of the young Armand and not of the Lady of the Camellias. Armand’s hysterical jealousy is balanced by his overwhelming passion, his addictive personality finds expression in gambling. He never entirely trusts his lover, and this is the only reason he falls so easily for his father’s intrigue. The dominant feature is money – it’s always about money, exactly stated amounts, constantly settled. Above all, Dumas gives his readers a 19


glimpse of the “other” world, the so-called demi-monde. He colourfully describes the salons, the quiet rooms, the procuresses and grisettes, respond­ing to the curiosity, fantasy and longings of his public. And then turns to accuse the world of bigotry, in his setting, in the socalled polite society whose possessions Gautier hungers for, in a foreword where he attacks those who have forgotten Christian values and the values of the 1789 Revolution, and in personal episodes. But much of this is calculated cosmetic. Dumas is approaching the forbidden world with a voyeuristic eye and serving his readership with an innocent appearance. He plays with intimacy and presents it candidly. His characters are romanticised for the needs of light theatre, “charming dolls, completely hollow inside, with tastefully gilded exteriors” (Egon Friedell). There is also a taste of sensationalism (for example, the shocking moments such as the exhumation of the half-decayed corpse). And there is also a touch of moralization. The tragedy ultimately is not the social rejection of the courtesan, but the impossibility of leaving her past behind. Dumas judges in his turn: the earlier life of the Lady of the Camellias is reprehen­ sible, but is excused by the need that drove her to it, and redeemed by pure love. In any case, the novel was a hit, scandal and triumph followed in 1852 Dumas turned the book into a play, also with great success. The treatment of the story had to be changed at some points –also because of censorship – and made more “respectable”. For example, when Armand declares his love and asks when he can see her again, Marguerite gives him a red camellia, and the reader understands what she is saying. Marguerite’s trademark is that she always carries camellias – white ones on 25 days of the month, red ones on five days. In the play (and later in the opera) the colour code is decently omitted, and instead Armand (Alfredo) has to wait until the camellia has withered. This is a rather romantic image, since camellias wither quickly. In the play Marguerite also sees herself – more emphatically than in the novel – as having a reprehensible past, being a women unworthy of a moral relationship. Dumas has her ask herself, “Look at the filth in your past. What man would want to call you his wife, what child their mother?” The figure of Ninette, added in the play, also casts a less favourable light on Marguerite. Ninette comes from a similar social environment, but resists the temptation of wealth and brilliance and stays herself – a little seamstress. As a reward Dumas gives her the gift of pure, happy love. There is also a change in the finale, where Armand returns and is forgiven by Marguerite, while in the novel he never sees her again and is left with unredeemed guilt. Another point to bear in mind – the scandalous world of courtesans and glittering feasts was neither new nor unusual in 1850. Courtesans were pursued, gave salons, established themselves in society, were painted, were au­thors – and were able to marry into the aristocracy. Another feature is that OLI V ER LÁ NG


there was an extensive literature dealing with “fallen” women. Balzac wrote a 400-page novel about the glory and squalor of the courtesans, Victor Hugo wrote Marion de Lorme (a drama in which courtesan is brought down by her past), Gautier, Zola, Flaubert all dealt with the subject. A Paris anthology with texts by Dumas père, Paul de Kock and Balzac casually supplemented information on the weather, the Parc de Luxembourg, the theatre and the diplomats with a chapter on the whores, lowerrank courtesans and demi-mondaines. Outrage was more concerned with reading about a courtesan with a pure heart who is unjustly refused access to the bourgeois world than with the subject of courtesans as such. “There’s nothing wrong with having a lover. The fact that you pay her, as a man of the world pays for the love of a kept woman, is perfectly all right,” as Duval père makes clear to his son. Searching urgently for new material, with a long-standing opera commission by Teatro La Fenice for the 1853 carnival season, Verdi decided in September 1852 (the exact circumstances are unknown) to set the Lady of the Camellias, which he probably knew as a play and certainly knew as a novel. He was enchanted by the story, as his librettist Francesco Maria Piave de­­ scribes it, particularly since he found the boldness, daring, grandiosity and beauty here that he demanded. As a theatrical practitioner, he sensed the potential of this material for the opera stage. Years earlier, he’d rejected a similar subject – Victor Hugo’s Marion de Lorme, already mentioned earlier – on moral grounds, but now the courtesan story was just right for him. “A contemporary subject. Some­ one else might not have done it, because of moral considerations, the times and a thousand other foolish scruples. It gives me the greatest pleasure,” he wrote in January 1853. Unlike Dumas’ experience with the Parisian censorship, the Venetian censorship was straightforward, and only the title Amore e morte had to be changed. Verdi chose La traviata, taken from the aria “Addio, del passato” (“Ah, della traviata sorridi al desio” – “Ah, hear the plea of a fallen woman”) which the protagonist sings in Act III. The “fallen woman” is certainly judge­mental, and for all his criticism of social hypocrisy Verdi joins Dumas here with the rest of society. The courtesan is guilty, even if she deserves all our sympathy. Verdi’s name change from Marguerite to Violetta has been the subject of endless speculation. While Marguerite as the flower stands for uncertainty (think of the game, “he loves me – he loves me not”), the violet is symbolic of humility, purity and modesty – it’s not for nothing that the Mother of God is often shown iconically with a violet. So is there a dramatic turn to the names? The librettist Piave follows Dumas’ play, makes cuts required for the opera, sacrificing the entire second act, which doesn’t lead anywhere. As in the play, the aspect of the loving and suffering Violetta is more strongly empha 21


sised than the courtesan (which can only be intuited), the number of dramatis personae is reduced. The last sentence of the play, “You shall be forgiven, for you have truly loved”, summarises the action in an absolution apotheosis, referring to a saying of Jesus about Mary Magdalene (“for she loved much”), does not appear in the libretto. Verdi wrote the music for the opera in just a few weeks, and its first performance was on 6 March 1853, not even 50 days after Il trovatore’s world première. Despite Verdi’s continuing protests, Fanny Salvini-Donatelli sang the title role, vocally triumphant, but anything but consumptive in appearance. Was it her fault that the première was not a success? In any case, the critics were somewhat kinder to her than to her colleagues Ludovico Graziani (Alfredo) and Felice Varesi (Germont). Verdi wrote to everyone describing the première, with the word fiasco figuring large. Another point to consider is that the production set the opera at the start of the 18th century – over Verdi’s protests, who saw it as contemporary – which gave it a historical flavour. Verdi revised the piece slightly and sent it to another of Venice’s opera houses, the Teatro San Benedetto. This time, Verdi was happier with the casting: Maria Spezia-Aldighieri (Violetta), Francesco Landi (Alfredo) and Filippo Coletti (Germont). This was the breakthrough, leading to a positive run on La traviata, although the piece was also in demand by other theatres in the original version. Now, however, the censors intervened and demanded not only adapta­ tions but another change in the title, from La traviata to the more innocent Violetta. The title under which the opera was initially played in Vienna.

→ Pretty Yende as Violetta, 2021



Andreas Láng


La traviata at the Vienna State Opera

The popularity of the piece, the high number of performances, countless stellar casts – on stage and on the conductor’s podium – the box office appeal… Despite all this, Verdi’s La traviata has for long been a poor relation at Vienna State Opera. None of the productions achieved the status of the Vienna State Opera versions of Falstaff, Don Carlo or Simon Boccanegra. Even the two great opera directors Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss were not particular fans of La traviata. During their terms of office (18971907 and 1919-1924 respectively) the number of performances dropped off significantly. Of the Verdi operas, Mahler concentrated on Aïda and Falstaff – he never conducted La traviata here at all. Strauss would have preferred to banish La traviata entirely from Vienna State Opera, as he said in his oftenquoted “artistic legacy” to Karl Böhm. Where does this remarkable dismissal come from? It has a history in Vienna. When the piece had its Vienna première at the K&K Hoftheater at the Kärntnertor on 4 May, 1855, two years after its world première, the most malignant of the critics, Eduard Hanslick, unleashed a barrage of slurs and annihilating invective. “As consumptive as its heroine from the start, Verdi’s music only gains interest by occasionally slipping into delirium tremens […] The music is boring to the point of being aggressively so. Even the episodic numbers that were stuffed into the gaunt frame of the tale – the Roma chorus, the Spanish matadors’ chorus, the brindisi in the first act, and numbers like these – are marked by the sorriest lack of inventiveness.” The Neue Wiener Musik-Zeitung was in the same vein. “The music in the opera La tra­ viata is stale and empty, rich in trivialities and commonplaces, full of gaudy reminiscences of his own operas.” Even so, Hanslick revised his harsh criticism years later as a youthful indiscretion, and over the years La traviata attracted an increasing number of prominent supporters. One of them was Pietro Mascagni. The composer of Cavalleria rusticana even mounted the podium at VSO in 1924 to conduct a performance. After the house opened in 1869 it took a surprisingly long time for La traviata to be integrated into the season’s programme. The first performance on 11 March 1876 was not even a regular one, but part of an Italian season, which also caused some unrest through the replacement at short notice of the title role. Instead of the eagerly awaited and celebrated Adelina Patti, the public had to be content with the (also well-known) Marie Heilbron. “Before the start of the third performance of the Italian Opera Society, there was a major ruckus at the box office. This was under siege from a crowd of people who instead of seeking tickets were demanding their money back for tickets they had already bought,” according to the Presse. The tenor scheduled to sing Alfredo that evening, Ernesto Nicolini, was also ill, and Vittorio Capoul stood in for him. Overall, it was a successful evening des­pite the changes in the cast, although the critique in the Presse concluded: 25


“It goes without saying that the audience left before the end of the opera, as the performance overran yet again.” Laughable, considering that the performance began at 7.30 p.m. and the music alone doesn’t take more than two and a half hours. At least the performance was under the original title, while censorship, already occasionally experienced in Italy, meant that the first real première in the house – naturally, in German – was presented as Violetta. It was not until 1931 that the piece was allowed to revert permanently to La traviata at the Vienna State Opera. The media response to this new production (5 February 1879) was tepid, with criticism focusing on the translation. “This is one of the hardest, most difficult to sing that we know, and all too frequently spoils the impression of the music.” (Neue Freie Presse). The large, bold type of the announcement on the evening fliers and posters “Roma dance and Spanish dance in Act II” is clearly a marketing measure. It was not until it became obvious that the piece was successful that they gave up on stressing the “attractive ballet interludes”. The production remained essentially unchanged in the repertoire for 45 years, the number of acts changed from three to four and back to three, depending on the prominence given to the Flora scene. After an interval of six years – it is unthinkable today that La traviata could be left off the programme for so long! – a new production finally appeared on 31 October 1931. As between 1879 and 1925 the following years were marked by leading figures on the stage and on the podium in this version. The director’s role remained sadly understated, as the instructions of the popular ensemble member Hans Duhan were possibly just an effort to freshen up the old production. And this was at a time when Lothar Wallerstein was creating one masterpiece after another on the same stage! The next attempt also lacked any trace of a pioneering spirit. Oscar Fritz Schuh, who was also very busy in the National Socialist period, mounted a aesthetically pretentious version which first appeared in a double première on 19/20 December 1940. The Kleines Volksblatt, which had followed the Nazi line since 1938, treated it euphemistically: “It is good to see greater attention being paid to revising the staging of Verdi’s popular repertoire operas. In view of the upcoming 40th anniversary of Verdi’s death, La traviata has been given a new production at the State Opera. It is good to see Caspar Neher’s sets and costumes, which reflect the period and class so faithfully. Oscar Fritz Schuh gave action and gestures a thorough revision. Leopold Ludwig took great care over the expressive intensity of the music. The double cast, who appeared on two successive evenings, juxta­ posed Esther Réthy in the title role, a very clever performance and an appealing Violetta, with Lea Piltti, vocally more naturally at home in the coloratura role. Todor Mazaroff employed his radiant tenor to effect as A N DR EAS LÁ NG


[Alfredo] Germont, Anton Dermota has long been a treasure here as a tasteful interpreter of this role.” After the Second World War the production conducted by Josef Krips moved in 1947 with some some slight tweaks to the Theater an der Wien, the temporary quarters for the destroyed State Opera. As a marginal note, a review in Neue Österreich showed how merciless critics were towards singers – even prominent ones – even then. “Of the three requirements for a Travia­ ta, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf has two to perfection: she is young, beautiful, and her dazzling, carrying and well-trained coloratura voice is equal to all technical demands. Dramatically, she is often colourless and sweet where she should be blazing, passionate and refined. As a grande amoureuse in the Paris of the 1850s, she would have had a difficult time.” La traviata finally became a director’s choice in 1957, when Herbert von Karajan, at the time director of the newly opened house took over musical direction of a new production. While his performance was celebrated, Mario Frigerio’s lavishly and elaborately set production had little brilliance and content to offer. Its most striking feature was the extremely high cost of the production. La traviata had 99 performances in this version before the new production (although not noted as such in the evening’s programme) in 1968. The sets were not new, but taken from the Volksoper, which many critics complained of. For example, Gotthard Böhm in Die Presse: “As the Vienna State Opera is celebrating its centenary this season, and only the best is good enough for this, innocent spectators would have thought it would be appropriate to have a prominent stage designer create a new production. Instead, someone came up with the idea of having fifteen-year-old sets, which Lois Egg designed for Josef Gielen’s production at the Volksoper when the unforgettable Ljuba Welitsch was still singing Violetta, hauled out of the scenery depot, and assigning an assistant director to ‘restage’ it.” The Wiener Zeitung critic wrote of the casting; “Hilde Güden sang Violetta. She sang with her great technique, which also gives the melodious tone a solid foundation, but ducked a high C (for example) and otherwise showed that the she is somewhat past the role. ... A personal and livelier aura isn’t exactly a forte of tenor Alfredo Kraus, who sang Alfredo. But he has native tenor virtues well worth hearing and the welcome vocal presentation was exemplary ... Even Argeo Quadri as conductor was unable to bring enough mood and excitement into the performance.” After only 23 performances, everyone had had enough, and Otto Schenk was commissioned with a new production. His La traviata from 1971 has so far exceeded all previous productions of the opera in Vienna State Opera in terms of the number of performances. There have been around 280 performances, with a range of conductors and singers which could only be captured in a listing. Inevitably, the following 40 years increasingly eroded the impact of this very subtle interpretation, which particularly impressed with 27


the very “restrained situation in the scenes in the country house and the death scene” (Kronen Zeitung). In 2011 the hope was to create a new production which would offer something appropriate to the new 21st century. The French drama and opera director Jean-François Sivadier tried this with a stage-within-a-stage setting. The audience was given a backstage view, watching singers who were in the process of performing La traviata. Opinion was divided. “Generally dull standing theatre with a lot of illogical details” (Kurier). “At every moment you see actors on the stage, and you still start to forget that – this is the strength of this production” (Wiener Zeitung). In the course of refreshing the core repertoire that started with Bogdan Roščić as general director, it was logical to replace the La traviata production. On 7 March, 2021 (due to COVID only streamed and broadcast on TV without an audience in the house) the latest première of the work under the baton of Giacomo Sagripanti was duly staged. This was a co-production with Opéra national de Paris, by film, stage and opera director Simon Stone, with Pretty Yende (Violetta), Juan Diego Flórez (Alfredo) and Igor Golovatenko (Giorgio Germont) in the three main roles.

→ Next pages: Pretty Yende as Violetta and KS Juan Diego Flórez as Alfredo, 2021



The French author Jules Gabriel Janin (1804–1874) about Marie Duplessis

“She needed solitude… she was pursued. She needed silence… and heard the same sentences continuously, endlessly sounding in her bored ear! She wanted to be left in peace!... They dragged her off to parties and the social whirl. She wanted to be loved! They told her she was beautiful... So she lost herself helplessly in the tumult that swallowed her!

Susan Sontag


What links society establishes with diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer 32

Tuberculosis and cancer have been used to express not only (like syphilis) crude fantasies about contamination but also fairly complex feelings about strength and weakness, and about energy. While syphilis was thought to be passively incurred, an entirely involuntary disaster, tuberculosis was once, and cancer is now, thought to be a pathology of energy, a disease of the will. Concern about energy and feeling, fears about the havoc they wreak, have been attached to both diseases. Getting tuberculosis was thought to signify a defective vitality, or vitality misspent. “There was a great want of vital power… and great constitutional weakness”– so Dickens described little Paul in Dombey and Son. The Victorian idea of tuberculosis as a disease of low energy (and heightened sensitivity) has its exact complement in the Reichian idea of cancer as a disease of unexpressed energy (and anesthe­ tized feelings). In an era in which there seemed to be no inhibitions on being productive, people were anxious about not having enough energy. In our own era of destructive overproduction by the economy and of increasing bureaucratic restraints on the individual, there is both a fear of having too much energy and an anxiety about energy not being allowed to be expressed. Like Freudʼs scarcity-economics theory of “instincts”, the fantasies about tuberculosis which arose in the last century (and lasted well into ours) echo the attitudes of early capitalist accumulation. One has a limited amount of energy, which must be properly spent. (Having an orgasm, in nineteenthcentury English slang, was not “coming” but “spending”.) Energy, like savings, can be depleted, can run out or be used up, through reckless expenditure. The body will start “consuming” itself, the patient will “waste away”. The language used to describe cancer evokes a different economic catas­ trophe: that of unregulated, abnormal, incoherent growth. The tumor has energy, not the patient; “it” is out of control. Cancer cells, according to the textbook account, are cells that have shed the mechanism which “restrains” growth. (The growth of normal cells is “self-imiting” due to a mechanism called “contact inhibition”.) Cells without inhibitions, cancer cells will continue to grow and extend over each other in a “chaotic” fashion, des­troying the bodyʼs normal cells, architecture, and functions. Treatment also has a military flavor. Radiotherapy uses the metaphors of aerial warfare; patients are “bombarded” with toxic rays. And chemotherapy is chemical warfare, using poisons.1 Treatment aims to “kill” cancer cells (without, it is hoped, killing the patient). Unpleasant side effects of treatment are advertised, indeed overadvertised. (“The agony of chemotherapy” is a standard phrase.) It is impossible to avoid damaging or destroying healthy cells (indeed, some methods used to treat cancer can cause cancer), but it is thought that nearly any damage to the body is justified if it saves the patientʼs life. Often, of course, it doesnʼt work. (As in: “We had to destroy Ben Suc in order to save it.”) There is everything but the body count. 33


The military metaphor in medicine first came into wide use in the 1880s, with the identification of bacteria as agents of disease. Bacteria were said to “in­vade” or “infiltrate.” But talk of siege and war to describe disease now has, with cancer, a striking literalness and authority. Not only is the clinical course of the disease and its medical treatment thus described, but the disease itself is conceived as the enemy on which society wages war. More recently, the fight against cancer has sounded like a colonial war – with simi­larly vast appro­priations of government money – and in a decade when colonial wars havenʼt gone too well, this militarized rhetoric seems to be backfiring. Pessimism among doctors about the efficacy of treatment is growing, in spite of the strong advances in chemotherapy and immunotherapy made since 1970. Reporters covering “the war on cancer” frequently caution the public to distinguish between official fictions and harsh facts; a few years ago, one science writer found American Cancer Society proclama­tions that cancer is curable and progress has been made “reminiscent of Vietnam optimism prior to the deluge.” Still, it is one thing to be skeptical about the rhetoric that surrounds cancer, another to give support to many uninformed doctors who insist that no significant progress in treatment has been made, and that cancer is not really curable. The bromides of the American cancer establishment, tirelessly hailing the imminent victory over cancer; the professional pessimism of a large number of cancer specialists, talking like battleweary officers mired down in an interminable colonial war – these are twin distortions in this mili­tary rhetoric about cancer. Other distortions follow with the extension of cancer images in more grandiose schemes of warfare. As tuberculosis was represented as the spiritualizing of consciousness, cancer is understood as the overwhelming or obliterating of consciousness (by a mindless It). In tuberculosis, you are eating yourself up, being refined, getting down to the core, the real you. In cancer, non-intelligent (“primitive”, “embryonic”, “atavistic”) cells are multiplying, and you are being replaced by the nonyou. Immunologists class the bodyʼs cancer cells as “nonself”. Tuberculosis was a disease in the service of a romantic view of the world. Cancer is now in the service of a simplistic view of the world that can turn paranoid. The disease is often experienced as a form of demonic possession — tumors are “malignant” or “benign”, like forces – and many terrified cancer patients are disposed to seek out faith healers, to be exor­cised. The main organized support for dangerous nostrums like Laetrile comes from farright groups to whose politics of paranoia the fantasy of a miracle cure for cancer makes a serviceable addition, along with a belief in UFOs. For the more sophisticated, cancer signifies the rebellion of the in­jured ecosphere: Nature taking revenge on a wicked technocratic world. False hopes and simplified terrors are raised by crude statistics brandished for the general public, such as that 90 percent of all cancers are “environmentally caused,” SUSA N SON TAG


or that imprudent diet and tobacco smoking alone account for 75 percent of all cancer deaths. To the accompaniment of this numbers game (it is difficult to see how any statistics about “all cancers” or “all cancer deaths” could be defended), cigarettes, hair dyes, bacon, saccharine, hormone-fed poultry, pesticides, low-sulphur coal – a lengthening roll call of products we take for granted have been found to cause cancer. X-rays give cancer (the treatment meant to cure kills); so do emanations from the television set and the microwave oven and the fluo­rescent clock face. As with syphilis, an innocent or trivial act – or exposure – in the present can have dire consequences far in the future. It is also known that cancer rates are high for workers in a large number of industrial occupations. Though the exact processes of causation lying behind the statistics remain unknown, it seems clear that many cancers are preventable. But cancer is not just a disease ushered in by the Industrial Revolution (there was cancer in Arcadia) and certainly more than the sin of capitalism. The widespread current view of cancer as a disease of industrial civilization is as unsound scientifically as the right-wing fantasy of a “world without cancer” (like a world without subversives). Both rest on the mistaken feeling that cancer is a distinctively “modern” disease. The medieval experience of the plague was firmly tied to notions of moral pollution, and people invariably looked for a scapegoat external to the stricken community. (Massacres of Jews in unprecedented numbers took place everywhere in plague-stricken Europe of 1347-48, then stopped as soon as the plague receded.) With the modern diseases, the scapegoat is not so easily separated from the patient. But much as these diseases individualize, they also pick up some of the metaphors of epidemic diseases. Pre­ sently, it is as much a cliché to say that cancer is “environmentally” caused as it was – and still is – to say that it is caused by mismanaged emo­tions. Tuberculosis was associated with pollution (Florence Nightingale thought it was “induced by the foul air of houses”), and now cancer is thought of as a disease of the contamination of the whole world. Tuberculosis was “the white plague.” With awareness of environmental pollution, people have started saying that there is an “epidemic” or “plague” of cancer.

→ Next page: Ludovic Tézier as Giorgio Germont, 2021

Drugs of the nitrogen mustard type (so-called alkylating agents) – like cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) – were the first generation of cancer drugs. Their use – with leukemia (which is characterized by an excessive production of immature white cells), then with other forms of cancer – was suggested by an inadvertent experiment with chemical warfare toward the end of World War II, when an American ship, loaded with nitrogen mustard gas, was blown up in the Naples harbor, and many of the sailors died of their lethally low white-cell and platelet counts (that is, of bonemarrow poisoning) rather than of burns or sea-water inhalation. Chemotherapy and weaponry seem to go together, if only as a fancy. The first modern chemo­therapy success was with syphilis: in 1910, Paul Ehrlich introduced an arsenic derivative, arsphenamine (Salvarsan), which was called “the magic bullet”.




Duval père to his son, in La dame aux camélias

You have a lover, there’s nothing wrong with that. The fact that you pay her, as a man of the world pays for the love of a kept woman, is perfectly all right. But that you violate the most sacred obligations for her sake, that you let the rumour of your shameful way of life penetrate to our province and besmirch the honourable name I gave you, that is not acceptable under any circumstance and must not be.

Christina Böck


The social façades

“The rooms were crowded with people. There were all the celebrities of the most elegant impropriety, furtively examined by certain great ladies who had again seized the opportunity of the sale in order to be able to see, close at hand, women whom they might never have another occasion of meeting, and whom they envied perhaps in secret for their easy pleasures.” This description comes early in Alexandre Dumas’ novel La dame aux camélias, the literary source of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La traviata. The scene is set in the rooms of the courtesan Marguerite Gautier, who died of tuberculosis. All her possessions are being auctioned off to satisfy the young woman’s creditors. What Dumas is describing here – and his narrative is based on real situations – is very human behaviour. It bears the elegant name of voyeurism. All these people claiming to be interested in the auction are making a social event of it where they can see how one of “those” women live, without any risk to their own reputations. An excursion into the demi-monde. This is not something to be proud of, but it is something which has changed little from the 19th century, when Dumas wrote down his observations. But there has been a change, in that it’s very much easier today to indulge in such voyeuristic whims. At the start of 2021 an instant message shook the tabloid world – Kim Kardashian was filing for divorce from Kanye West. The parties were a US rapper with a tendency to misbehave and an entrepreneur who based her celebrity on a reality TV show. Above all, she was an Instagram queen. Instagram is a social medium for sharing images. This is the very simple description of a medium which is immensely important today as a means of communication for celebrities and wannabees. Fans subscribe to the Instagram accounts of their idols and become “followers”. In February 2021 the list of accounts with the most followers was headed by Instagram itself, followed by soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo with 245 million followers. Relatively modest figures are the wrestler The Rock and pop singer Ariana Grande (216 and 215 million followers respectively). Kim Kardashian West ranks seven with 203 million faithful followers. West uses her channel to communicate her current Instagram-optimized collections of cosmetics and shapewear to her paying customers. Instagram is also a soft of family diary for her, where she shares her life with her fans. But only as far as she finds convenient, and as far the legend of a happy luxurious life allows. After the announcement of the divorce filing by the former dream couple, fans and professionally interested followers (tabloid journalists) fell on the more than 5,000 pictures Kardashian had posted on Instagram since her wedding – which could now be seen as a very different foreshadowing. Mostly, this was when Kanye West had one of his notorious fits of mental instability over the years, when his wife quickly posted a photo of the couple showing (or preserving the image of ) a marriage undisturbed by this turmoil. It was only 39


towards the end of last year that very attentive observers could see that the façade was crumbling – her wedding ring had gone. Digging through old Instagram photos for a celebrity breakup is the modern equivalent of the curious crowd in the apartment of the deceased Marguerite Gautier. In both cases, people were digging for a piece of a world they could never enter themselves. Today, with Instagram, people don’t even need to worry that someone will find their name – it’s all entirely anonymous. In the 19th century, there was still the danger that the brief voyeuristic thrill could have social consequences – the association with debauchery would have been enough. Given the moral code of the times, even the appearance of compromise could have far-reaching consequences, particularly for women – duels for male relatives, the cloister or “just” unemployability, which naturally led to poverty. As a woman, you were pretty much a helpless slave of these moral notions – in La dame aux camélias it is a woman’s reputation which ultimately leads to Marguerite turning from her lover Armand with her last lie. When his father tells Marguerite that Armand’s sister’s honour is perma­nently “tainted” by his relationship with her, he convinces her to make her final denial. Marguerite, who became Verdi’s Violetta, is a courtesan. An ambivalent role for contemporary women. On the one hand she has a life of luxury, is surrounded by admirers. On the other hand, she pays for this with social disdain. “They fear you like a wild animal, look down on you like a pariah,” she complains at one point. She finances her expensive lifestyle through affairs with wealthy men. This enables her to visit the theatre daily, maintain an expensive apartment, a fancy carriage with fast horses, glittering jewels, a country house at a whim, flowing champagne. One thing that doesn’t fit in with the glamorous image she is enjoying is a disease – her tuberculosis. She can hardly post her bloody handkerchief on Instagram. The courtesan is caught in a dilemma. She needs the appearance of glamour to be attractive to her admirers. But she also needs the men to create this appeal. She only realizes that her entire existence is a house of cards based on lies when she feels true love. Then she is undone by the fact that she is an elegant symbol of simulated love. Armand, who is Alfredo in Verdi’s opera La traviata, has difficulty dealing with Marguerite’s past life. Believing in her love is far from easy, mistrust uses every opportunity to provoke jealousy. He finally understands this, although too late, after he has his loved one exhumed to see her again. “You lied so often that nobody wanted to believe you, and besides your conscience you had to cope with the pain of your love,” he says about Marguerite’s “trade”. Hardly anyone has pangs of conscience if they lie on Instagram. This is argument for its own sake, because “lie” covers a lot of ground. Is it a lie if you make your waist a little slimmer with Photoshop? Is it a lie if you say you always use a product because it’s so good – and not because you get CHR IST INA BÖCK


money from the manufacturer for telling your millions of followers that you think it’s so good? And talking of millions of followers, is it a lie if you have seven million followers, but they aren’t real people at all, but an algorithm in Russia cutely named “Bot”? That last example at least doesn’t have much in the way of consequences – at worst, you can be locked out of your fake Instagram account. But if you’re serious about maximizing followers, it’s barely relevant, because fake followers are easily built up again. You don’t even need to venture into the dubious preserves of the dark web, where there are drugs and weapons. For $120 you can buy a pretty pack of 7,500 followers on everyday internet sites like It starts to be a bit expensive, if you want to talk about millions. But there’s the tempting prospect of serious money. With over a million followers, you can earn around $250,000 an article with companies whose product you’re advertising. People who do this professionally – advertising, that is, not necessarily buying fake followers – are called “influencers”. This is a double-edged term from the 21st century. On the one hand, it’s Orwellian in its lack of pretence that someone is supposed to have their behaviour influenced, on the other hand it makes clear that someone is voluntarily seeking to exercise influence. And it smoothly hides the fact that it’s all about business. And you don’t want to see business spoiled, for example by burdensome taxes. Recently, many influencers have relocated to Dubai. The capital of the United Arab Emirates has a lot of advantages for this occupation. The weather is photogenic, the luxury brands with deep pockets are right there, and there’s no income tax. However, you do need a licence from the official National Media Council. In the contract you commit to ensuring a “positive image” for he Emirates, and avoid any negative comments on Dubai, the country, its policies or its society. As a result, you’re unlikely to read about the kidnapped Princess Latifa, daughter of the Emir of Dubai with these Instagram heroes. They buy their luxury and their glamour by looking the other way. Marguerite Gautier also put up with a lot for her luxury and her glamour. “Under the gilded veil”, as Armand describes it bitterly, you might not see things so clearly. For Marguerite and Violetta, things didn’t turn out well. Christina Böck was the editor of the Wiener Zeitung supplement.



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Giuseppe Verdi LA TRAVIATA Season 2020/21 (Premiere 7 March 2021) PUBLISHER Wiener Staatsoper GmbH, Opernring 2, 1010 Wien General Director: Dr. Bogdan Roščić Music Director: Philippe Jordan Administrative Director: Dr. Petra Bohuslav General Editor: Sergio Morabito, Andreas Láng, OliverLáng Design & Concept: Fons Hickmann M23, Berlin Layout: Miwa Meusburger Cover image concept: Martin Conrads, Berlin Printed by: Print Alliance HAV Produktions GmbH, Bad Vöslau ARTICLE ORIGINATION Sergio Morabito / Oliver Láng Synopsis – Giacomo Sagripanti Roots in belcanto, branches in the future – Oliver Láng How the camellia became a violet – Andreas Láng Popular despite everything – Stefanie Hackl Simon Stone – Christina Böck You don’t post a bloody hankerchief on Instagram – The conversation between Bogdan Roščić and Simon Stone took place as part of the recording of an introduction before the première – Jules Janin about Marie Duplessis, from: Attila Csampai, La traviata, Rowohlt S. 120 – Excerpt from: Susan Sontag Illness as Metaphor, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977, p. 61-71 – Excerpt from: Alexandre Dumas, Die Kameliendame, Suhrkamp, 1999, p. 191 English translation of the synopsis: Steven Scheschareg English translation except for the synopsis and Illness as Metaphor: Andrew Smith IMAGES Cover: Berlin: Paris at Night, 2015, NASA Page: 2, 3, 10, 23, 30, 31, 37: Michael Pöhn / Wiener Staatsoper GmbH

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