The "Brindisi" Chorus
The Brindisi (“Libiamo ne’lieti calici”) in Act I Scene 1 of Verdi’s La traviata is a very popular tune from the opera. The Italian term brindisi translates to the English word “toast”. In the story, Violetta hosts a party, despite being very ill with consumption [kuhn-SUHMP-shn], or tuberculosis. Violetta says, “I give myself to pleasure, since pleasure is the best medicine for my ills.” She is essentially treating her illness with a good time. This song serves as a toast, for the guests of the party give a toast to Violetta’s supposed improving health. The song features the main soprano role, Violetta, and the main male role, Alfredo, a tenor.
The Brindisi is an excellent piece for students to start to think about how composers organize music so that its listeners can easily understand it. Just like in literature, poetry, and music, the creator of the piece has to make decisions when organizing the piece in a way that allows their purpose to be supported. This work is written in a way that features each of the soloists and the joyous atmosphere of the party, which is brought to light in the particular sections in which the chorus and soloists are combined. The Brindisi starts with a brief statement of the main theme, which will be restated many times throughout the scene. This is similar to when a student is asked to write an essay, we always suggest stating one’s purpose or main idea in the first paragraph. Verdi then introduces the soloists and chorus individually before combining all the stated elements together in the final verse of the piece.
Because the form of the piece is relatively simple and the elements of the music are clear, this piece is a great opportunity for students to practice active listening and applying what they hear to formal analysis. The attached worksheet is meant to guide the students’ listening and analysis, as well as serve as a catalyst [KA-tuh-luhst] for discussion about how composers organize their music.
Listen to the article
"Libiamo ne’lieti calici” - Let’s drink, drink from the joyful chalices
Alfredo: Let’s drink, drink from the joyful chalices since the beautiness is blossoming.
And might the fleeting hour get inebriated at will Let’s drink among (those) sweet quivers
that Love makes arise,
since that eye goes to (his) almighty heart.
Let’s drink, (my) love, (so that) love among the chalices will get hotter kisses
Chorus: Ah! Let’s drink, (so that) love,
among the chalices, will get hotter kisses
Violetta: With you, with you, I’ll be able to share my cheerful time;
Everything is crazy, crazy in the world
what is not pleasure
Let’s enjoy (the pleasures), fleeting and fast
is the joy in love,
It’s a flower that blossoms and dies,
neither it can be enjoyed longer
Let’s enjoy, it’s calling us, it’s calling us an ardent flattering accent.
Chorus: Let’s enjoy, the cup* and the canticle,
the lovely night and the smiles;
might the new day find them (still) in this paradise
Violetta: Life is in (its) jubilation
Alfredo: When (people) aren’t in love yet...
Violetta: Don’t say it to those who don’t know it,
Alfredo: So it’s my destiny
Tutti: Let’s enjoy, the cup* and the canticle,
the lovely night and the smiles;
might the new day find them (still) in this paradise.
Listen to the translation
Watch the Opera Philadelphia Chorus surprise visitors at Reading Terminal Market!
Dedicated funding for the Sounds of Learning Dress Rehearsal Program has been provided by The William Penn Foundation, Hamilton Family Charitable Trust, Eugene Garfield Foundation, Wells Fargo, Universal Health Services, Hirsig Family Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation, The McLean Contributionship, and Mr. William A. Loeb