La Traviata and Cora Pearl

La Traviata and Cora Pearl

Posted by Utah Opera in Productions 21 Jan 2014

coraPearl1Through Jan 26, the Utah Opera continues their season with La Traviata, a story of a beautiful Parisian woman who survived on the riches of the men she dated. The story follows Violetta through her life and parties and the pains of falling in love. This opera is based on a play that is based on book that is based on a real experience had by Alexandre Dumas (the son of the author of the Three Musketeers).

Did you get that?

Giuseppe Verdi composed this opera after seeing the play “La Dame aux Camélias” which was based on the book of the same name (both were written by Dumas). Dumas wrote the book based on his own experience with a Parisian courtesan.

And the main character of all four stories is based on group of women who were drinkers, gamblers and sinners. They threw their money around and were sexually promiscuous. They were called “the demimonde,” a French term that means “half the world.” They were seen as the antithesis of the bourgeois and upper class citizens of France.

One of the most famous “demimondaine” is Cora Pearl who lived in Paris in the 1860s. Cora Pearl was raised in a poor and turbulent family. Her father gallivanted across the ocean to America, and she was unable to form a relationship with her stepfather. Life with her religious grandmother was confining.

Cora rebelled and became a woman of the streets in London. She lived in the Argyll Rooms, a pleasure house in London. After only a few years, she decided she wanted to be more than a prostitute. She wanted to be a kept woman. She found her way to Paris where she was able to do more than lie with the common man, and she exploited the men who fell in love with her beauty.

coraPearl2Some of her most famous and richest lovers are:

  • Victor Masséna, third Duke du Rivoli
  • Prince Achille Murat
  • Charles Duc de Morny, who was the half-brother of the Emperor Louis-Napoleon
  • Ludovic, Duc de Grammont-Caderousse

Cora was given money, chalets and horses, building her private wealth. She dressed extravagantly to draw attention to herself. She dyed her hair bright colors, painted her face and wore elaborate jewelry. (The Utah Opera costume department has done a wonderful job replicating this outlandish and beautiful look for the performances of La Traviata.) She was also known to divest herself of the beautiful dresses and show up at dinners and plays mostly naked.

Like most demimondaines, Cora’s life ended when her beauty expired. She was plagued with scandals and her fortune slowly dwindled away.

We know so much about her life because she kept a very detailed record of her erotic exploits. Her memoirs were published in 1886, and in the 1980s another volume of her exploits was found. The details are much too … detailed … for this blog post.

Come and see La Traviata and experience the life of a Parisian courtesan for an evening with the Utah Opera at Abravanel Hall. Visit utahopera.org

  • Dean Omori

    The opera was just beautiful…i feel as though I were one of Cora’s lovers- I was so overwhelmed and inspired by the beautiful voices orchestra and costumes and sets. Id give more for this affair to continue on

  • melissarossi199

    Hello, The opera sounds like it was amazing and I’m so glad to see your spotlight on Cora Pearl. I wanted to let you know that the second “secret” memoirs, the ones supposedly recently “found” and published in 1983 with the name “Grand Horizontal, The Erotic Memoirs of a Passionate Life,” were entirely fictionalized–an act perpetrated by Derek Parker, writing under the pen name of William Blatchford. I think Cora Pearl is fascinating, but Mr. Parker’s book has entirely muddied the waters about her life. Everything else you mention is, as far as I can tell, the truth. But don’t believe the second faux memoir…

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