Whoosh! Issue 45- June 2000


By Maria Helena Barrera
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
1415 words

La Traviata and Xena: Warrior Princess (01-03)
Violetta (04-11)
Xena (12-14)
Conclusion (15)

Traviate on Their Way to Redemption:
Xena and Violetta Valery

La Traviata and Xena: Warrior Princess

I am not Ulysses S. Grant

Giuseppe Verdi, who wrote La Traviata.
[01] There are two notable links between Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) and the opera, La Traviata (Giuseppe Verdi, 1853): Lucy Lawless' operatic presence and the episode THE BITTER SUITE (58/312). The operatic aspects of XWP reverse the Wagnerian world and mirror the ambience of other works, like Puccini's Turandot was mirrored by the Hercules: The Legendary Journey's episode ARMAGEDDON NOW II (H73/414). Beyond that aspect, however, there can be more subtle and paradoxical links. These links can be demonstrated by examining the parallels and divergences found between Violetta Valery, the main female character of Verdi's La Traviata, and Xena, the main character of Xena: Warrior Princess.

[02] Both Violetta and Xena can be considered "fallen women" or "traviate", by virtue of their former lives. The Italian word, "traviate", conveys a meaning that is particularly rich to the Xenaverse: "to have lost the way". Violetta lost it and became an exquisite Parisian prostitute. Xena lost it and became a murderous warlord. While it is ironic that the traviate notion could be applied to two such diverse experiences, its ultimate consequences nonetheless are both the same. Whatever the supposed sins of the past they are guilty of, traviate who become aware of their situation have the tendency to search for redemption.

[03] Their use of different strategies to achieve redemption underscored a striking difference. Violetta chose to reach redemption through suffering in a painful long process to auto-immolation. Xena on the other hand chose to reach redemption through the greater good, a greater good directed to the people that she protected and that ultimately enriched her own appreciation of life. Both paths were active ones, rooted in choices and decisions. Violetta's was a common strategy for females not only in opera but also in general fiction. Xena's represented an unexpected, but healthy alternative.


Some different curtains, different paint, you won't recognise it

Violetta's bedroom, where Act III takes place.
[04] With Violetta, Verdi created an atypical leading character. She was not only a prostitute that became an archetype of purity but also was the supposed marionette that took control over her life with an iron grip. In an operatic world where too many female characters were passive victims waiting for redemption or destruction, Violetta was the blatant exception. Each of her scenes contained a definite volition that became action. How that volition was impregnated by her strategy was the crux of the play.

[05] Violetta, a high level prostitute, decided to accept a young man, Alfredo, as her lover. With the plain knowledge that such decision could only lead to tragedy, she gave herself the opportunity to enjoy a traditional couple life with him. She had no illusions about the outcome (Act I, aria ""É strano, é strano... Ah! Fors'é lui..."). She was sick and death was a mere question of time.

[06] Violetta relished an almost idyllic life with Alfredo for three months, until the day when Alfredo's father arrived and asked her to leave his son. His arguments ranged from veiled threats to appeals to the goodness in her. After an initial negativity, unexpectedly Violetta acceded in a surprising move.

[07] Some commentators have suggested that Violetta's withdrawal was caused by the force of the plea of Alfredo's father. Others credited Violetta's own preconceptions and guilt in regard to Alfredo's sister and even to Alfredo himself, supposedly an uncontaminated innocent victim. Both explanations were erroneous. Violetta was not a passive woman to be convinced by poor arguments. It was more accurate that, as she admitted the possibility of a brief happiness, she could deal with the necessity of an end. Her lucidity however had a flaw. She used the outcome of her love story as her path for redemption through suffering.

[08] In an emotional auto-mutilation, Violetta made sure that Alfredo believed she had betrayed him. She offered him the proof of her supposed viciousness in the most public of ways, a party. Alfredo then demonstrated the immature and weak nature of his love. After a few minutes he disdained Violetta, mistreated her, and threw money at her, commenting upon her condition. Violetta's stated reason to have chosen a party to have this happen was to be sure that Alfredo would not have second thoughts after such a demonstration. The real reason was far more disturbing. Public humiliation was her preferred path for the self- realization of her faults.

[09] Violetta had almost gone bankrupt by supporting Alfredo. By choosing to do so, she had to forgo a treatment for her illness and comfort for her last days. She insisted upon those kinds of decisions, and conveyed distress until her exhaustion and annihilation. However, when death did come, a very repentant Alfredo and his father were witnesses. In the fourth and final act Violetta confirmed her love, announcing that she would pray in heaven for her lover. She even gave Alfredo a small portrait, an icon of the saint that she had adopted by her choice of suffering.

[10] Comparing Violetta to other opera heroines highlights her uniqueness. In La Bohéme, Mimi is not much more than a marionette, whose acts are guided by the decisions of others, letting life and death come without knowing why. In Lucia de Lammermor, Lucia can act by her own will only when fueled by madness, a madness originating from the will of male characters. Apparently harder heroines such as Tosca or Norma, are also diverse in nature. Floria Tosca has only a burst of active choice, that is Scarpia's murder. That choice will lead to her death, although her ultimate goal was all the time life. Norma dies immolated after admitting to have fallen, but she never seeks purposely that outcome.

[11] Violetta is utterly different. Her ultimate goal since the first act is death, and death of a very specific kind: a death that will convey not only total forgiveness but also exaltation, not only of peace but also sacredness.


Much like the new Tapert/Lawless place

The set for Act 2, a country house near Paris.
[12] The temptation to use Violetta's strategy haunted Xena for most of the first four seasons. It was, however, the main force only in two episodes: THE RECKONING 06/106) and LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407). In both episodes, Xena dealt with her own eagerness to be drawn towards an ominous and painful end in order to pay for her past crimes. In THE RECKONING she did not even commit the crime to which she was to be punished.

[13] What made Xena the opposite of Violetta was not the lack of an impulse toward redemption, but how the strategy was used to channel it towards that goal. The temptation of suffering was there, but the Warrior Princess usually avoided that path with the constant help of Gabrielle. Instead of ceding to an auto-destructive surrender, she realized that the strategy to redemption passed by seeking the greater good for others. That notion transformed the perception of her self. By admitting its necessity Xena preserved herself from getting lost in the turmoil of guilt and accepted herself as a valuable human being.

[14] Although Xena was not able to forgive herself until her pivotal scene with Callisto in THE IDES OF MARCH (89/421), she was able to see that by giving up to pure expiation, her mission would never be achieved. The search for the greater good was an unselfish strategy far away from the egotistic path of suffering towards redemption. By admitting it, Xena did not rid herself of guilt, but did control it, and incidentally, admitted her own value as a human being.


[15] In Opera: The Undoing Of Women, Catherine Clement addressed the underlying basis of the operatic world: opera exalts death, madness, or submission on most of its heroines, forever transforming any initiative to a passive acceptance. When this reality has exceptions, as in Violetta's case, the character ends the opera by using its volition in an auto destructive-way. Xena was the exact opposite paradigm: even when haunted by her past, she worked towards the conquest of her self and avoided the path of blinded suffering. May the greater good be with us as it was with her.


Maria Helena Barrera Maria Helena Barrera
A woman of mystery
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