Good morning, friends! If you missed any of the previous pieces (this turned out to be Tosca month!), you can catch up here:
Tosca is pretty much the perfect opera and one of the most accessible ones for those new to opera. It’s about obsession, sex, murder, suicide—all of them! Cavaradossi (a painter) and Tosca (a soprano) are falling for each other. Every so often, the two of them go for a weekend together at Cavaradossi’s villa outside of Rome. Meanwhile, Scarpia, the police chief, has also fallen for Tosca. Scarpia arrests Cavaradossi and offers Tosca a trade — her sexual favors for her lover’s life — but Tosca manages to kill Scarpia before that happens.
Today we’re listening to…
"Vissi d'arte", a soprano aria from Act 2 of the Italian opera Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. The role of Tosca is perfect for a lyrico-spinto soprano (a soprano voice type that has both lyric and dramatic qualities to it). This aria requires the soprano to use her top notes, as well as her lowest ones, to describe her feelings of anguish and hate.
Scarpia arrests Cavaradossi and lures Tosca to his house. Scarpia wants Tosca. He tries to bargain with her and offers to stop the torturing of her lover Cavaradossi for a night together. This aria represents a shift in Tosca’s personality from a somewhat vain, flirtatious girl to a woman who suffers and turns to a higher power for help. She sings here of the two great driving forces in her life: love and music.
If you can believe it, this aria almost did not make it into the final version of the score as Puccini felt it stalled the action in the scene.
We are listening to Maria Callas here, and like so many of her roles, she does not just sing Tosca — she is Tosca. As you can see (and hear) below, I think the crowd in Paris the evening of December 19th 1958 would agree :-)
🎧 Listen here (4 minute listen), Maria Callas, "Vissi d'arte", Tosca, December 1958, L'Opera de Paris
Her 1964 comeback at London’s Royal Opera House is probably the most famous performance of Callas singing Tosca, which you can find here.
“Vissi d'Arte” (“I lived for art, I lived for love”)
I lived for art, I lived for love, I never harmed a living soul!
With a discreet hand, I relieved all misfortunes I encountered.
Always with sincere faith, my prayer rose to the holy tabernacles.
Always with sincere faith, I decorated the altars with flowers.
In this hour of grief, why, why, Lord, why do you reward me thus?
I donated jewels to the Madonna's mantle, and offered songs to the stars and to heaven, which thus did shine with more beauty.
In this hour of grief, why, why, Lord, ah, why do you reward me thus?
Here are some other interpretations of the piece:
Mirella Freni (she never sang this role on stage and she was definitely not known for her recording of this opera, but I still love the purity of tone here)
Full productions of Tosca:
Callas/Di Stefano/Gobbi, La Scala, 1953
Verrett/Pavarotti/Macneil, The Metropolitan Opera, 1978
Gordoni/Corelli/D’Orazi, Parma, 1967
Kabaivanska/Domingo/Milnes, London New Philharmonia Orchestra, 1976
Do you have a favorite soprano singing the role of Tosca? Or a specific performance you prefer? Please leave it in the comments!
Thank you for listening,
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