Tosca, one of the many great operas by Puccini we have on DVD. The 1900 premiere was in Rome, its fictional setting, and the role of the beautiful, passionate, and tragic singer has always been a choice one (many fans believe that Maria Callas owned the part, and she patently identified with it). To be as realistic as possible (he was angling for "verismo"), Puccini visited Rome to listen to the early-morning church bells from the ramparts of the Castel Sant' Angelo, the setting of Act III, and to consult with a priest on the liturgy for the spine-tingling "Te Deum" that concludes Act I.
What it takes to rise to the top of this incredibly demanding art form is explored intriguingly in Maria-Cristina Necula's Truth, Tempo, and Soul: Encounters with Stars, Innovators, and Leaders of Today's Opera World.
A special note: If you want to see and hear an unparalleled operatic rarity at a ridiculously low price, get a hold of the 1969 concert DVD of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos featuring Beverly Sills. So exhilarating ... and mind boggling! It was well-nigh impossible not to love Sills: both the person and the artist. Here's some of what the Washington Post wrote when she died in 2007.
Ms. Sills was America’s idea of a prima donna. Her plain-spoken manner and telegenic vitality made her a genuine celebrity and an invaluable advocate for the fine arts. Her life embodied an archetypal American story of humble origins, years of struggle, family tragedy and artistic triumph..... Above: Tatiana Troyanos as Romeo and Sills as Juliet in Sarah Caldwell’s 1975 production of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi.
During her performing career, with her combination of brilliant singing, ebullience and self-deprecating humor, Ms. Sills demystified opera — and the fine arts in general — in a way that a general public audience responded to. Asked about the ecstatic reception she received when she made a belated debut at La Scala in Milan in 1969, Ms. Sills told the press, “It’s probably because Italians like big women, big bosoms and big backsides.” Her obituary in the Arts section of the NYT is mammoth, going on for four sections. That’s appropriate. She was a vital part of the fabric of the city of New York for three quarters of a century, practically from babyhood.
How about you? Favorite operas? Singers?