- La Traviata, opera
La Traviata is the story of a courtesan named Violetta and her live-in lover, Alfredo, whom she is forced to abandon so his family's reputation is not tarnished. Her suffering turns to tragedy, as consumption finally takes her life at the very moment of her long-awaited, joyful reconciliation with Alfredo. Not surprisingly, the frank subject of this opera stunned the audiences of Verdi's time. Verdi was not at all interested in shock value, however. La Traviata is really about an outcast from society, a theme Verdi returned to again and again in his operas: the hunchback in "Rigoletto"; Manrico, the troubador in "Il Trovatore"; Otello, the black Moor living in a white society; even the ribald renegade Falstaff fits the bill. Verdi sympathizes deeply with these characters, and his ability to portray the poignancy of their predicaments is a large part of these operas. The richness of Ileana Cotrubas's voice lets us imagine a Violetta of great physical beauty. But it's the soprano's ability to convey both the heroine's fragility and her glowing, inner strength that makes this recording extraordinary. Plácido Domingo makes a handsome-sounding Alfredo, and Sherrill Milnes is convincingly -- even sympathetically -- paternal as Alfredo's demanding father. Conductor Carlos Kleiber pushes the music quite hard at times, but the result is taut and electrifying, the most exciting Traviata on record since Arturo Toscanini's famous version from the 1950s.