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La Traviata vs Moulin Rouge! vs Pretty Woman


By Siobhan Brewood-Wyatt


A story of a courtesan, of love, sacrifice and social convention – sound familiar? You’d be right if thought that was a summary of La Traviata. But if Baz Luhrmann’s quirky Moulin Rouge! or timeless romcom Pretty Women came to mind, you’d be spot on as well. Those two blockbusters were inspired by Giuseppe Verdi’s classic opera, and ahead of the performances of More Than Musical’s intimate, immersive reworking of La Traviata at the new ArtisTree on 17-18 June, we look at how the spirit of the opera has been adapted, Hollywood-style.


The leading lady

You’re probably familiar with La Traviata’s Violetta, Moulin Rouge!’s Satine, or Pretty Woman’s Vivian – three characters who are all essentially the same. The most obvious point: yes, they’re all courtesans (prostitutes, if you must). But their similarities go beyond their mere profession. Each is kind-hearted, well-meaning yet vulnerable, sceptical about true love. Until they meet the main man…


The main man

Be it at a posh soirée (Violetta and Alfredo), at a gaudy revue (Satine and Christian at the Moulin Rouge), or literally walking right up to him in the street (Vivian and Edward), our leading ladies meet their match and fall quickly into a whirlwind romance. Alfredo and Edward are both from wealthy backgrounds (rich family, rich businessman respectively) but Christian is a mere humble poet. But all offer the leading lady a new life away from their past.


The conflict

“Happily ever after” never comes that easily, though. In La Traviata, rather than risk damaging Alfredo’s family reputation with her past, Violetta feigns disinterest in his love. Satine makes Christian believe she doesn’t love him to protect him from her admirer, the ruthless Duke of Monroth. Vivian finds it hard to accept their differences in social status and, with a broken heart, turns her back on Edward’s promise of a better life.


The illness

Poor Violetta and Satine didn’t stand much of a chance – they both had tuberculosis, which in the 19th century was nearly always fatal. Both hide their illness from their lovers so to save them from heartbreak. The audience know what’s going on (in theatre speak, this is known as “dramatic irony”) and the tragic endings seem certain from the start.


Vivian escapes the fate of her Parisian counterparts, however, and unlike Violetta and Satine, she is in perfect health – youthful and energetic, the only thing that stands between her and her love, is herself.


The end

Vivian may have fought her own romantic destiny to reject Edward, but as a good Hollywood romcom would have it, they end up together post-drama. The other ladies, though, were not as lucky.


La Traviata and Moulin Rouge!, Alfredo and Christian finally realise Violetta and Satine have left them out of guilt and fear rather than the lack of love. And of course, both leading ladies succumb to their illnesses in tear-jerking scenes. How’s that for a tragic, dramatic, cinematic “ever after”?


Photo: Callaghan Walsh

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