2012-13 season

The Music of Tosca

April 4, 6, 10, 12, 2013, at 8 pm
Matinée April 14 at 2:30 pm

An introduction to the gorgeous music of Puccini's Tosca.

Let's start by remembering the great Maria Callas, known as La Divina. One of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century, Callas (1923-1977) was loved for her beauty, her glorious voice, and her striking dramatic intensity. In 2006, Opera News wrote of her: Nearly thirty years after her death, she's still the definition of the diva as artist.

Maria Callas as Tosca, 1958. Vissi d'arte

Callas was one of the most celebrated of twentieth-century Toscas. Above, Callas performs Tosca's eloquent Act II lament, known in Italy as La Preghiera di Tosca but elsewhere simply by its first words: Vissi d'arte. It is perhaps the most beloved aria from the opera. The performance is from a concert given in Paris in December, 1958, which concluded with the opera's second act, featuring the unique partnership of Callas and baritone Tito Gobbi as the villainous Scarpia.

I have lived for art and for love, and I did not harm a living soul!
Secretly I relieved many miseries ...
Always with sincere faith. my prayers arose in church.
Always with sincere faith, I gave flowers for the altars.
In this hour of sorrow, why, Lord, am I rewarded like this?


Maria Callas as Tosca, 1964. Vissi d'arte

Callas sings Vissi d'arte a few years later in 1964, in a performance recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Carlo Felice Cillario Conductor. Again, Tito Gobbi is Scarpia.


Maria Callas as Tosca, 1964. The murder scene

From the same 1964 performance, here pathos gives way to desperate ferocity in the murder scene. The dramatic intensity of Callas' performance is absolutely thrilling.


Leontyne Price sings Vissi d'arte

For sheer vocal beauty and warmth – allied to musicality, intelligence, and great personal magnetism – it's hard to equal, let alone surpass, the wonderful Leontyne Price (b. 1927), seen here in concert.


Angela Gheorghiu, Covent Garden, July 2011. Vissi d'arte

Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca, Bryn Terfel as Baron Scarpia. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden July 2011, conducted by Antonio Pappano


Tosca, Act III, E lucevan le stelle

The other popular aria from Tosca is Cavaradossi's soliloquy E lucevan le stelle sung in Act Three. Now a political prisoner condemned to die in one hour, Mario has bribed the jailer so that he can write one last time to Tosca. In this aria, he contemplates the woman he loves and the life that he now has to give up just as he's learned to appreciate its value.

Franco Corelli, 1956

The stars were shining, And the earth was scented.
The gate of the garden creaked And a footstep touched the sand ...
Fragrant, she entered And fell into my arms...
That moment has fled, and I die in desperation...
And I never before loved life so much

The main melody of the aria is first heard in the clarinet; the singer's first line is sung to a series of repeated notes. This is a familiar Puccini pattern, employed also in "Che gelida manina."

One of the twentieth century's greatest tenors, Franco Corelli (1921-2003) excelled in the role of Cavaradossi and recorded it with both Maria Callas and Birgit Nilsson. Above is a performance from 1956.


Franco Corelli, 1962. E lucevan le stelle

A later Corelli performance from VAI DVD 4201 Great Stars of Opera Telecasts from the Bell Telephone Hour 1959-1966.


Mario Lanza. E lucevan le stelle

It seems impossible that a tenor could achieve great and lasting renown – and be cited as an influence by such important younger artists as José Carreras and Placidò Domingo – having learned and appeared in only a couple of operatic roles, but such is the strange fate of Mario Lanza (1921-1959). A few legitimate live performances garnered Lanza the praise of famed conductor Serge Koussevitsky. The great soprano Licia Albanese (b. 1913), who appeared with Lanza on film in an excerpt from Verdi's Otello, said:

I had heard all sorts of stories about Mario. That his voice was too small for the stage, that he couldn't learn a score, that he couldn't sustain a full opera; in fact, that he couldn't even sing a full aria, that his recordings were made by splicing together various portions of an aria. None of it is true! He had the most beautiful lirico spinto voice. It was a gorgeous, beautiful, powerful voice. I should know because I sang with so many tenors. He had everything that one needs. The voice, the temperament, perfect diction. . . Vocally he was very secure. All he needed was coaching. Everything was so easy for him. He was fantastic!

Although Lanza, still in his twenties, was beginning to receive serious offers from major opera houses, by 1949 he was engulfed in the Hollywood star-making machinery, and his subsequent erratic performance record and litany of personal troubles are too well-known and sad to relate here. However, if he didn't actually play Cavaradossi on stage, he did record the character's famous aria – and this recording is a thrilling revelation!


Sherrill Milnes, Act I, Tre sbirri, una carrozza...Va Tosca (Te Deum)

It is perhaps unfortunate that Scarpia is given no aria commensurate with Vissi d'arte. In the words of Patrick "Spike" Hughes: No villain of an opera surely ever had less memorable music to sing than Scarpia. But what a villain. There is surely no character in opera as chilling, as menacing, as Scarpia!

With Pacific Opera Victoria's April 2013 production of Tosca, David John Pike makes his debut in the role of Scarpia – not to mention his POV debut and his Canadian mainstage opera debut. Mr. Pike has worked with one of the greatest Scarpias ever – Sherrill Milnes.

Sherrill Milnes as Scarpia in a 1976 production of Tosca with Placido Domingo as Cavaradossi and Raina Kabaivanska as Tosca. Conductor: Bruno Bartoletti. Directed by Gianfranco De Bosio.


San Diego OperaTalk! with Nick Reveles:

Enjoy an introduction to Puccini's shabby little shocker as Nick Reveles talks about Tosca.

Commentary by Robert Holliston