A Close Look at Germont’s “Di Provenza” from Verdi’s La Traviata

As the stern representative of conventional morality, duty, and cold reason, the elder Germont may be a particularly unsympathetic character to many. From his own standpoint, however, his actions are unquestionably justified. He must consider the good not only of Alfredo as an individual, but also of the family as a whole. (If Verdi’s La Traviata were about Alfredo’s sister and her fiancé, then Germont would be a hero.) And in any case, the romance of Violetta and Alfredo, touching as it may be to us, is doomed: Alfredo’s inheritance is not sufficient to support the two of them, and her income depends on her entertaining multiple clients.

When Germont sings “Di Provenza,” Alfredo is in a state of shock—he has just read Violetta’s letter suddenly throwing him over, and at this very moment he sees his father. When “Di Provenza” is sung as an excerpt, one can begin with the “Mio figlio!” This not only establishes the aria’s context, but also this full-out phrase may be an easier beginning than the delicate aria proper. In the first verse of the aria, Germont tries to convince Alfredo that his native Provence will be a balm in this moment of anguish. In effect, he sings a lullaby, addressing his adult child as a dependent, malleable infant. The word “natio” is short for “nativo,” and the “i” is stressed: it should not simply occupy the grace note E flat, but extend well into the D flat. The word “rammenta” marks a change—up to this point, Germont has posed rhetorical questions; now he uses the imperative: “Oh, remember….” In fact, getting Alfredo to remember his family and responsibilities to it is vital to Germont’s plan. A well-prolonged double “m” will help give this word force. The next phrase is musically similar, but major replaces minor mode. The singer has the opportunity to make a subtle contrast by singing the D flat “sol” (“and that there alone peace will shine on you”) slightly brighter than the same note (and vowel) “duol” in the previous phrase (“Oh, remember in your suffering…). Text in high passages is hard to understand, and the wise composer will assign to a high phrase a repetition of text previously heard in a lower range. If you have pronounced the first “e che pace colà sol…può” intelligibly, you may favor legato over diction in the high repetition—the listener will know what you are saying. In this phrase, the word “colà” is misaccented in Verdi’s setting. Accenting the “là” with linguistic correctness would sound utterly awkward and affected, but at least we should be sure not to accent the “co.” As we see in the headlines every day, everyone imagines (or at least maintains) that God is on his side, and “God has sent me!” is intended to clinch Germont’s argument. Even though the word “Dio” may fall on an unaccented beat, it should not be pronounced casually; in fact, stressing the word against the meter can lend it special weight.

With the first verse, Germont tries to soften Alfredo by appealing to his sentiment; with the second verse, however, he tries to coerce him with guilt—“If the voice of honor in you is not utterly mute” are strong words indeed. This does not necessarily mean that the second verse must be louder, only that the tone of voice be reproachful. As does the aria as a whole, the cadenza sits high. Fortunately, taking ample time between the phrases of the cadenza not only provides a chance to relax, but also reinforces Germont’s pomposity—here is a man who knows he is right, and doesn’t mind repeating himself.

Those who find Germont’s conventionality and rectitude distasteful may enjoy the fact that Alfredo pays not the slightest attention to what his father is saying—his thoughts are fixed on Violetta’s apparent perfidy. If the scene were given uncut, in fact, we would be treated to seeing the young man contemptuously ignoring two verses of cabaletta as well as two verses of aria.

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith is a highly respected New York coach, particularly known for helping singers with difficult and unfamiliar scores.