Verdi’s La traviata

Giuseppe Verdi‘s opera, La traviata, is the world’s most popular opera. Its arias are instantly recognisable and have become staples for opera houses across the globe. Yet at its London premiere in 1856, La traviata was denounced for bringing ‘the poetry of the brothel’ to the stage and unleashing uncomfortable truths on Victorian society.

Read Tom Service in The Guardian about why the tragic heroine of the opera created such a stir.

On Saturday 20 June 2015 at 21:00 BST on BBC2, historian Amanda Vickery and BBC Radio 3 presenter Tom Service reveal the extraordinary story behind the opera’s first night in London and its scandalous heroine, the courtesan Violetta Valéry, whose dramatic life and tragic death were based on real-life characters and events. Tom and Amanda’s journey goes from the luxury of the Parisian demi-monde to the teeming streets of Victorian London, where prostitution was seen as a threat to society itself. Amanda explores the story of Marie Duplessis, a highly prized courtesan whose life inspired the play on which the opera was based, whilst Tom discovers how Verdi, on a visit to Paris with his mistress, soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, seized this risqué story for the subject of his new masterpiece. Together, Amanda and Tom follow the opera’s journey to London and examine how its incendiary premiere marked a historic moment in which art confronted reality, redefining the role of the opera diva forever.

Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian