Monday 23 May 2011

My favourite opera: Tosca by Giacomo Puccini

I cannot even remember the first time I saw Tosca on stage – but I do remember the first time I heard Maria Callas sing Vissi D’arte, my very favourite aria. My mother loves Callas and has several of her records (vinyls!). When my sister and I were younger, we’d often make a show of putting our fingers into our ears, ‘No caterwauling!’. But once when I was about ten or so and she listened to her favourite soprano sing I saw she was crying. I had no idea what Maria Callas was singing about, but suddenly I too felt tears well up inside me.

And now it really doesn’t matter what opera it is, or what the subject matter is - as soon as a soprano, or a tenor, reaches certain notes, tears start to roll down my face. Nothing gets me going as much as when Tosca sings Vissi D'arte. In the aria she's being blackmailed by a powerful and ruthless politician, the brilliantly named Scarpia, and sings about the cruelty of fate.

I lived for my art, I lived for love,

I never did harm to a living soul!


why, why, o Lord,

why do you reward me thus?

Tosca sees herself as just a simple singer in love with a painter, Mario Cavaradossi, who gets into a political entanglement which leads to his arrest, torture and eventual murder. But in truth Tosca is also famous and it's her jealousy together with her beauty which are her downfall. 

Each time I see this opera - or even listen to it - I am full of hope for a better ending where Tosca blissfully walks into the sunset together with her beloved Mario. Instead she makes one of the most spectacular exits in the history of opera: she commits suicide by jumping off the embattlements where she'd just witnessed her beloved getting executed by Scarpia's men. Tosca's scream at the end of any performance of the opera stays with me for days, even weeks afterwards.

What's your favourite opera?


Crosby Kenyon said...

I don't know much about opera, but occasionally there's a snippet that takes me on a startling emotional ride and, for that moment, there is nothing other than the journey.

Unknown said...

Obviously you love opera - give it a go! I loved La Boheme done simply with just a pianist to accompany at Soho Theatre. (Cried then too...) I think there's review of it somewhere on this site...xx

Minx Malone said...

Oh I love Tosca. Usually I prefer Verdi but this is one of Puccini's best. Anna Moffo and Leontyne Price sing Vissi d'arte beautifully.

Unknown said...

Minx, I'm exactly the same - prefer Verdi but Tosca is my favourite. I'm going to see Tosca at the Everyman. It was recorded last year at the Met with the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila who's very good. Cannot wait to hear her version of this emotional aria! xx

Anonymous said...

My father in law loves opera and has sent or taken me to see quite a few over the years, although I haven't seen Tosca. That was very moving though, I will look and see if our local company are doing it anytime.

Imogen said...

The ENO are reviving their terrific production in the autumn, with the rather awesome Clare Rutter as Tosca and Anthony Michaels-Moore returning to his very creepy personification of Scarpia. Unfortunately the tenor is a chap my mother refers to as "Mr Wardrobe" (& not because of his clothes)...

Serafiina said...

Hei Helena! Just wanted to say that I am another Finn, writing a blog about living by the Thames, in London. I am Classical Singer.. so Vissi Dárte is my favourite surely.. and I was lucky enough to see Karita mattila performing Tosca in Finnish National opera some years ago.

Unknown said...


How exciting, another Finn writing a blog in London! I couldn't see your profile, though, so cannot follow...?

Helena xx

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dear Helena, I was chatting on email to a great friend of mine Danny Fields who's my music guru (he used to manage The Ramones etc), only this morning that I know nothing about opera - he replied "Opera can be daunting, but it needn't be. Try "Tosca," it punches all the way through, and never fails."

I shall give it a go xx