Giuseppe Verdi might not have thought of his beloved wife Giuseppina “the bees knees,” but he would have loved the Roaring ‘20s for La Traviata. Verdi originally set La Traviata in his present time of 1853, but censors forced him to move the action back 100 years. They considered the topic too risqué to have taken place in the present age.
Little did those censors know that this story would resonate even more powerfully in a setting nearly 100 years in the future. Our director and designer, Marta Domingo, has insightfully wed this iconic opera with a revolutionary time period in U.S. history: the Jazz Age.
Here are five reasons why we think Verdi would have approved:
1. A Time of Extravagance, Followed by a Fall
“Your adventurous life will ruin your health,” Alfredo says to Violetta, the heroine of La Traviata. The 1920s were famous for speakeasies and long cigarettes, as well as the “adventurous” investing and financial speculation that led to the Great Depression. Verdi would have seen the parallels between the time period and his character’s fates.
"Both worlds produced a special breed of women who, though their existence didn’t last long, wrote a very important page in the history of both countries," notes Domingo. The grand courtesans of Verdi’s day and the flappers of the Golden Era were liberated, loved excess, and disdained authority. Considered in their day to be outrageous and even immoral for defying society’s expectations (just like our ill-fated heroine), like Domingo, flappers would have reminded Verdi of his Violetta.
3. The Glamour of Art Deco
And it's not just flappers. Art Deco, the prevailing artistic movement of the 20s, combined modern styles with fine craftsmanship and rich materials. Those qualities set the perfect scene (literally) for a story about a modern woman, surrounded by rich men, who is attempting to navigate the complicated and delicate details of true love.
4. The Romantic Revolution
Love and sex were changing rapidly in the 1920s. Women and men felt freer than ever to express themselves. But not everyone approved of this revolution. Prohibition and the Fundamentalist Revival were just a couple of social reactions to this newfound freedom. As Domingo points out, “This atmosphere, where the morals and principals of a conservative society were constantly endangered by a new wave, could very easily set the stage for another Violetta Valéry!”
5. Party Like It's 1928
Despite Prohibition in the U.S., the 1920s were known for outrageous parties. Had Verdi been able to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, he’d see that the hedonism of the decade perfectly reflects Violetta’s lifestyle – and everything that she ultimately rejects for love.
All photos by: Craig T. Mathew