THE TIME: 1846
THE PLACE: Paris
THE PLOT: The opera opens at a party held in the home of the beautiful courtesan Violetta, who is soon introduced to the young aristocrat Alfredo Germont, recently arrived from the country. As dancing begins, Violetta stays behind because of a fit of coughing brought on by consumption. Alfredo lingers to profess his love. Violetta is touched by his sincerity and passion, but laughingly tells him to forget her. Later, however, Violetta finds herself wondering, after a lifetime of superficial liaisons, if Alfredo might represent true love.
Act II opens with the lovers now living together in a cottage outside of Paris. Violetta has sold many of her fine things, including her jewels, to support the couple. When Alfredo realizes she is selling her personal belongings, he dashes off to Paris to raise some money. While Alfredo is away, his father visits Violetta and persuades her to give him up to save the family name. Without telling Alfredo why, she pens a farewell note and returns to her gay life in Paris.
Alfredo follows her there and finds her at a party on the arm of a rich baron. Though the baron and Alfredo almost come to blows during a high-stakes gambling match, Violetta lies and tells Alfredo she loves the baron. He denounces her publicly and throws his winnings at her. The baron challenges him to a duel as the curtain falls.
The last act shows Violetta, now very ill and near death, living in a shabby flat in Paris. Alfredo's father has written to say his son survived the duel and now knows of the sacrifice Violetta made for him. Both now wish to come and beg for her forgiveness. Alfredo arrives, and he and Violetta sing a touching duet, imagining their life in the country where she will recuperate. But Violetta knows her death is near and soon sinks back into her remorseful lover's arms and dies.
Below, Cedolins imagines Violetta wearing an 18k white gold necklace with pavé diamonds and featuring a beautiful camellia (the story upon which the opera is based and a later movie starring Greta Garbo were both titled Camille). Matching earrings also include diamonds.
Jewels play an important role in La Traviata. The opera begins with a shimmering celebration in the ballroom at Violetta's home. She makes her appearance beautifully adorned with a great quantity of diamonds. She is a great celebrity, constantly courted and sought after and, therefore, she enjoys a certain amount of power.
The jewels are the symbol of her charisma and her important place in Parisian high society. When she falls deeply in love with Alfredo, she doesn't hesitate to sell her jewels to pursue her dream of love and redemption.
The jewels are the symbol of seduction, but also of sacrifice. Violetta is a woman condemned due to her past, yet she expresses great purity and sincerity. Diamonds are undoubtedly the stones that best reflect this spirit.
by Fiorenza Cedolins
THE TIME: 18th century
THE PLACE: France and America
THE PLOT: In a busy courtyard of an inn in Amiens, a poor student named Des Grieux spots a coach arriving with three passengers: a rich, old aristocrat named Geronte; an army officer named Lescaut; and his sister, Manon, who is about to enter a convent.
Geronte plans to abduct Manon instead and has arranged with the innkeeper to have a swift coach brought to the back of the inn for that purpose. Des Grieux falls hopelessly in love with the beautiful Manon and persuades her to escape with him to Paris. When Geronte discovers their escape, Lescaut cynically reassures him Des Grieux will never be able to support the pleasure-loving Manon in Paris, which will open the way for Geronte to step in.
As predicted, Manon doesn't stay long with Des Grieux and she soon allows Geronte to set her up in the lap of luxury. Despite all of her jewels and fine belongings, Manon is bored and yearns for Des Grieux. Soon, her former lover visits and the two renew their vows of eternal love. Just then, Geronte comes in. Manon tells him she loves Des Grieux and shows Geronte his wrinkled face in a mirror. The old roué departs, planning to have her arrested.
Manon's brother arrives and urges Des Grieux and Manon to flee at once. But Manon, still in love with her pretty belongings, insists on staying to gather up her jewels. Officers arrive to arrest her and she is forced to accept deportation, the punishment inflicted on "wayward" girls. Just as she is about to leave Le Havre for America, Des Grieux appears and begs his way on board the ship and the lovers are reunited.
The final act shows Des Grieux and Manon lost and wandering through the Louisiana Territory. Manon is now gravely ill. As Des Grieux goes to find help, Manon prepares to die. When he returns without aid, the lovers sing a final duet and Manon dies.
For Manon Lescaut, Cedolins sketches a multistrand pearl necklace with a cabochon topaz at its center. Drop pearl earrings and ring complete the ensemble.
In Manon Lescaut, jewels again represent the power of seduction, but it is a power that leads to perdition and death because Manon can't detach herself from the desire to possess them. They are also like a demon that possesses her.
Manon is such an irresistible, impenetrable femme fatale! Entrapped by her extreme hedonism, she destroys all that surrounds her. Her egocentricity causes her to lose true love and to lose her life. I think pearls are the apt symbol for Manon: beautiful but enigmatic."
by Fiorenza Cedolins
THE TIME: 1800
THE PLACE: Rome
THE PLOT: Tosca, a great prima donna, finds herself ensnared in the political struggles that grip Rome during the Italian campaigns against Napoleon. Her beloved, Mario, a painter and friend to political outcasts, is arrested for harboring an escaped political prisoner, Angelotti.
When the evil chief of police, Scarpia, begins to torture Mario to find out Angelotti's whereabouts, Tosca panics and reveals the political prisoner's hiding place. Mario is taken to jail to be executed in the morning. Tosca, to save his life, agrees to become Scarpia's lover. He issues passes for Mario and Tosca to leave the city and orders a "mock" execution for Mario, to cover his act. But just as he takes Tosca in his arms, she plunges a knife into him, crying "Thus it is that Tosca kisses!"
The next morning, her murderous act still undiscovered, Tosca goes to the roof of the Castle Sant'Angelo, where Mario is to be executed. She shows him the passes she has taken from Scarpia and they plan their future happily. When the execution squad enters, Tosca reassures Mario it is simply a mock exercise. But when Mario falls, Tosca realizes Scarpia had secretly ordered the real execution to go forward. As guards arrive to arrest Tosca for the death of Scarpia, she flings herself from the parapet of the castle to her death.
Cedolins renders a sumptuous ruby necklace and earrings when imagining the jewelry Tosca might wear.
In Tosca, jewelry is a symbol of beauty and generosity. For example, Tosca makes a gift of her jewelry to the Madonna that reveals great devotion. In each scene, her jewelry is in keeping with her success as a woman and as an artist. It fully represents her capricious but also passionate and courageous personality. I think rubies are the ideal gemstones for such a strong, forceful figure."
by Fiorenza Cedolins