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01 November, 2009

Tosca and Rome - both immortal.

Tosca and Rome - both immortal.

It is worthwhile spending some time with this opera before moving on to the Wagner.

Tosca is rare in the field of opera regarding its ‘realism’. The events of the opera mean that its date is exact. Napoleon was then conquering areas well beyond France. You might say it was one of the many attempts to unify Europe which has now happened peacefully with the same currency, foreign policy and trade laws for most of the countries. The Battle of Marengo is mentioned in the text somewhere and 1799 was the year. He had already tried to conquer Egypt!

Further, each act takes place in a location which actually exists … and most tourists to Rome will see at least one of these either on purpose or just because they run into it. Opera fans will make a point of seeing all three! The church of Saint Andrea del VallĂ© is in the Corso Vittorio Emannule II and is magnificent … but no more magnificent than a dozen or more churches in Rome. The Farnese Palace became the French embassy. The Castel St Angelo has a long history and it is said that whoever holds this castle ‘will hold Rome’. It was originally a tumulus burial monument for Nero I believe and has since been built on, used as a prison, palace and tourist attraction. While it is not far from the Vatican itself, I believe there used to be tiny, narrow streets which Mussolini bulldozed to create the now magnificent avenue leading to St Peter’s square. It had been hemmed in for hundreds of years and pilgrims had to weave their way past the poor district to get to see the ONLY completed cathedral in the entire country (I kid you not). The Pope now owns the Castel St Angelo and he apparently has a small apartment there. Although it is huge, most is just firmament with ramps, stairs, tunnels, etc within. Its fenestrated battlements are recognisable for miles around and it is literally on the Tiber River, with only a small but busy two lane road in between, not to mention a little bridge directly in front … called (naturally!) the Ponto St Angelo.

So this opera is very popular, perhaps the 6 or 7th most popular of all operas at a guess, slightly after the famous 1,2,3 or “ABC” (Aida, Boheme, Carmen) of opera which no company can ignore in ANY season without risking bankruptcy.

Maria Callas was the most famous exponent of the part but Monserrat CaballĂ© made by far the most impressive recordings of ‘Vissi d’arte’, the very famous soprano aria (act 2). Apart from this, the opera is famous for not one but two immortal tenor arias, ‘Recondita armonia’ (act 1) and ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (act 3). Pavarotti (and most famous tenors) often sang one or even both of these two in their concerts.

This is also a good demonstration of the difference between a coloratura soprano and the dramatic soprano. The former, ‘a big canary’ would be taking big risk in attempting this role while the latter is more like a vocal locomotive for whom it is a gift.

So, get with the strength and vote number one: “TOSCA!!”