Today it is difficult to believe that La Traviata was a failure when first produced at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice on 6 March 1853. Perhaps it was because the first Violetta, Fanny Salvini-Donatelli, was so stout and Alfredo, Lodovico Graziani, was hoarse. It was put on again at the same theatre the following year to the acclaim which has since always accompanied it, and now La Traviata with a decent cast is always sure to be a sell-out. The drama and emotions portrayed, the travails of love, are so real and so felt. This production is a sell-out, very deservedly so, and, if not to die for, to use a voguish expression of the moment, a ticket for it might well be considered to kill for.

The production and scenography are by Zeffirelli, who returns to a work he has produced many times over the last fifty years with extraordinary invention and freshness of conception. He is traditional, in that the setting is 19th century and there is no nudity or horses being beheaded, and he inspires the highest commitment in the main protagonists (whose comeliness helps much). There is strong emphasis on the erotic, in settings dominated by ample, billowing drapes and swags; the party scenes are portrayed with a fantastic sumptuousness. When the curtain goes up on Flora