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Verdi's 'La Traviata:' The Original 'Pretty Woman'

If you spend any time at all reading about opera, you've probably seen comparisons between operas and movies — and those comparisons are easy to make, as the two genres share any number of common traits.

In 18th- and 19th-century Europe, operas were a popular form of large-scale, mass-market entertainment. They featured compelling drama, dazzling effects, stirring music and superstar performers — just like movies do today. And the adulation showered on today's Hollywood stars has been enjoyed by great opera singers for centuries.

So it's not surprising that we often see operas in the movies. Remember Cher attending La Boheme in Moonstruck? Or Richard Gere taking Julia Roberts to La Traviata in Pretty Woman?

Sometimes, when operas show up in the movies, it's simply because their music seems to enhance the films. But in the examples just mentioned, there's more to it than that. In Moonstruck, the two main characters are lovers who seem just about perfect for each other — except when they're not. Much the same could be said of the lovers in La Boheme.

In Pretty Woman, Vivian — the Julia Roberts character — goes to the opera for the very first time. Even so, La Traviata moves her to tears. And that's hardly surprising, as Vivian has more than a little in common with opera's tragic, main character — not least, her occupation.

The character of Vivan in the film is an old, Hollywood staple — the "hooker with a heart of gold." Verdi's La Traviata is the story of Violetta Valery, a glamorous Parisian courtesan. Both Violeta and Vivian meet up with just the right guy — and they both have to think seriously about the difference between their place in polite society, and that of their new paramours.

Vivian, in true Hollywood style, is swept away by her new lover, amidst the promise of a brand new life of luxury and bliss. And if Verdi had lived, say, in the Baroque era, when operas nearly always had happy endings, Violetta might have done just as well for herself.

But in Verdi's day, fiery romances at the opera often didn't turn out so well. The heartbreak of La Traviata has been drawing tears from it's audiences for more than a 150 years — and not just in the movies.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents La Traviata in a production from the Théâtre Antique in Orange, France. The stars are soprano Patrizia Ciofi as Violetta and tenor Vittorio Grigolo as Alfredo, with conductor Myung-Whun Chung.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive.

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