La Traviata (includes Drinking Song, Libiamo ne' lieti calici)
Giuseppe Verdi

91

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The third of Verdi's 5 entries in the Ultimate Hall of Fame. This slipped to its lowest position of 148 in the most recent countdown.

Verdi's evergreen opera premiered in 1853 — but the first night was a disaster, prompting jeers from the audience. The composer wrote to a friend, "La Traviata last night a failure. My fault or the singers? Time will tell!" Indeed it did.

Today it is one of the world's most performed operas, most famous for its rousing drinking song. But despite all of that piece's gaiety, La Traviata is a tragic story of love and death.

It was originally entitled Violetta, after the main character — a famed courtesan. The young nobleman Alfredo Germont is in love with Violetta and wants to settle down with her but she is unsure whether she could sacrifice her freedom. When they do move in together, Alfredo's father turns up to tell her to break off the relationship for the sake of his family's reputation. Violetta returns to Paris but is already seriously ill with tuberculosis. She dies in Alfredo's arms shortly after he arrives.

Two words: take tissues.

La Traviata at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.