Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in the Tuscan town of Lucca 150 years ago today, and opera was forever changed as a result. (Some would say for the worse, but that’s a debate for another time.)
I discovered Tosca a little over 30 years ago, and although I was too young to appreciate much of what I heard, I responded to the score in ways that I don’t think I ever could have imagined. Scarpia completely captivated me–I had also just seen Star Wars, so the idea of pure evil was no doubt still fresh in my mind–and when I had finally saved up enough of my allowance to buy a copy of the Schirmer piano/vocal score, I went through and memorized the entire role, hoping one day to sing it on stage. (I never did.) In the afternoons, I would escape to my bedroom, cue the LP to the Te Deum, and strut around menacingly while Leonard Warren did all of the really heavy lifting for me.
Years later, as I prepared to give my first series of pre-performance lectures on Tosca, I pulled out my CD transfer of that old recording, and as I listened once again to the end of Act One, I was immediately transported back to the summer of 1977, to a time when the composer’s music was still fresh and new and opera had yet to seep into my viscera.
These days, when I need a Puccini fix, I’ll often turn to Fanciulla del West, with its dense modern harmonies and rich orchestral palette, or to the dark, brooding and tightly coiled Il Tabarro, to my mind the best of the three operas that make up Il Trittico. But I still come back to Tosca, the “shabby little shocker” (props to Joseph Kerman) that rocked my world at the age of 15 and continues to do so to this very day.
And so, by way of a small birthday tribute, I’d like to offer up the following. Grazie mille, maestro!
Tosca – Te Deum (rec.1955)