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7 Relationship Lessons from the Opera La Traviata


On the evening of July 5th, I attended the live simulcast performance of Verdi’s La Traviata from the San Francisco Opera at AT&T Park in San Francisco. This was my second outing to opera in the park in San Francisco. Last year’s performance was Verdi’s Rigoletto an opera about love and romance. This time I was sure to dress warmly and brought a jacket and avoided last year’s disaster of shivering in my T-shirt and shorts. Yes, it is cold in the summer in San Francisco and on this night it was a cool 59 degrees F. I, along with 26,000 other people in the park and perhaps another 3,000 people in the opera house were treated to a wonderful performance by a cast headed by AilynP erez as Violetta Valery, Perez’s real life husband Stephen Costello as Alfredo Germont and Quinn Kelsey as Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father.

My synopsis of the opera with 7 Relationship Lessons:


Violetta (pronounced Vee-o-let-ta) is a courtesan or in today’s language a hooker or sex worker. However, she is a high society sex worker. Think Elliot Spitzer type of sex worker. Violetta has a party where she meets Alfredo who is from a respectable but probably lower middle class family. (Remember this is 19th century Europe.) Alfredo and Violetta are attracted to each other but not in a totally lustful way. Instead, it is the beginning of love. Act I of the opera concludes with Violetta singing a big aria commonly known as “Sempre Libera.” In this aria, she tries to shake off the strange feeling of love by reaffirming her life as a sex worker. The thought of falling in love is just plain madness she says. In this final Act I aria, we hear Alfredo’s voice in the back ground advocating for love as Violetta sings. Alfredo’s voice causes Violetta to fight to maintain her resolve: do not fall in love; I am a sex worker who goes from pleasure to pleasure. After all, given her lifestyle, who could possibly fall in love with her?

Lesson One

Some things never change. Today, just as it was back in the 19th century, many people still fall in love with the “wrong” person. Sometimes the person is from a different walk of life, whether it is economic/class, culture, race, religion or sexual orientation. We really can’t help who we fall in love with. Or can we?

Act II

Alfredo and Violetta have been living together for several months in the lap of luxury. However, Alfredo is not really able to support their luxurious lifestyle and there are money troubles. (Sound familiar?) Violetta sets out to fix the financial troubles but doesn’t tell Alfredo. She sends her maid Annina to sell some stuff so that the bills can be paid and instructs Annina not to tell Alfredo about the plan to pay off the debt.

Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father arrives and this guy is a piece of work. He basically tells Violetta that she is bringing shame to his family and is preventing suitors from marrying his daughter, Alfredo’s sister. Violetta is surprised to learn that Alfredo has a sister. She offers to leave Alfredo for awhile so that his sister can find a suitor but Giorgio tells her that she must leave Alfredo for good. Giorgio lays it on pretty thick with Violetta including that he was sent by God with the message that Violetta must leave Alfredo. He also tells Violetta that she deserves love and that some day she will find someone who can love her. (But just not his son.) Violetta agrees to leave Alfredo for good. She asks Giorgio to take care of Alfredo because she knows he will be devastated by the breakup.

Alfredo has an argument with Giorgio, his father, during which his father basically tells him that he should be grateful that he got rid of the sex worker and this was for his own good and isn’t he a loving father for taking care of his son? Alfredo learns that the woman he loves has left him and also finds out that she has paid off the debt. Alfredo is hurt and enraged and goes to a party where Violetta has returned to her old life of being a sex worker. She is at the party with a baron. Alfredo humiliates Violetta in front of the party guests and then is thrown out of the party.

Lesson Two

Money is one of the most common issues that couples argue about. We can do some pretty hurtful things when we get hurt in a relationship. It’s a good idea to talk with your partner/spouse about your finances or anything else that might be problematic in your relationship. Doing things in secret is usually not a good idea unless it’s a surprise birthday party etc. I think this was more than one lesson but…..

Lesson Three

Sometimes there is “a price to pay” for getting involved with the “wrong person.” This price usually comes in the form of strained relationships with family and friends who often try to correct the error of our ways.

Lesson Four

Those pesky in-laws, always meddling and causing trouble and doing what they think is best for their child. The problem in this opera and often seen in real life is that the father doesn’t talk to his son about his concerns instead the father emotionally blackmails Violetta into leaving. Violetta seems to have some self esteem issues because of her past and pays attention to what her “father-in-law” tells her instead of the fact that Alfredo loves her and chose to be with her. But if she had stayed with Alftedo we would have a different opera.


Violetta has moved to Paris and is now dying from consumption or as we know it today, TB. Even in her sickness Violetta thinks of her love for Alfredo. She has received a letter from Giorgio telling her that Alfredo has forgiven her and that he and Alfredo will come to visit her soon. However, it has been a while since she received the letter and Alfredo and Giorgio have not come to visit. In the meantime, there are Mardis Gras celebrations outside of Violetta’s apartment in Paris. Violetta’s maid Annina who has stuck with her comes in and tells her that Alfredo is here. Violetta comes to life at the news and sight of Alfredo and they have a great reunion in the form for arias and duets. Giorgio has come as well and acknowledges his error in interfering with the couple’s love. (Great music by the way.) Violetta says that she is much better and can no longer feel pain after she and Alfredo finish greeting each other. She says that love has saved her but then collapses and dies. Alfredo is devastated.

The end.

Lesson Five

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how far we run our past catches up with us.

Lesson Six

It’s nice that have that one friend who sticks by us through thick and thin such as Annina, Violetta’s maid. Annina did have a few questions and suggestions for Violetta but she was not paid any attention. Perhaps we should ponder our friends’ questions and suggestions more often when it comes to love.

Lesson Seven

It’s hard to get over a true love. Can we ever get over a true love? Are you willing to risk it all for true love? If you do, be sure to have some great communication skills that do not include the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These are four communication styles/elements in couples that predict relationship demise.

1. # Contempt 2. Criticism 3. Defensiveness 4. Stonewalling.

This is according to the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling.


John R. Edwards, LCSW

Providing counseling in Oakland, CA


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