Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Here is a review of a new novel called Scarpia by Piers Paul Read, about the villain in one of my favorite operas. From Sarah Johnson:
Readers will take away different things from Read’s newest novel, depending on their familiarity with the source material. Newcomers to Puccini’s Tosca will find themselves following a dramatic tale of love, war, honor, and women’s fickleness while learning about the political circumstances of late eighteenth-century Italy, a land where monarchies and Catholicism are threatened by the rising tide of republican thought emanating from revolutionary France. Those with prior knowledge of the opera will also recognize how shrewdly its heartless villain, Baron Scarpia, has been refashioned into a tragic hero.

Vitellio Scarpia is a flawed protagonist, a hotheaded Sicilian adventurer “possessed by the spirit of vendetta.” Following some youthful recklessness, he loses his fortune but later ascends to become a loyal, trusted officer in the pontifical army. Scarpia’s background is richly imagined, and Floria Tosca, a young woman with a glorious singing voice, is mostly a minor character whose story interweaves with his. There are numerous nonfiction digressions from Scarpia’s story, some of which are fairly dry, but they illuminate the context of his turbulent times. (Read more.)

My post on the opera Tosca HERE. To quote:
Tosca was the first Puccini opera with which I fell in love; as a junior in college I would listen to it everyday after classes. The score explores a vast array of human emotions although the story line is deceptively simple. It is about how two young lovers, Mario and Tosca, are destroyed by the lust and cunning of the ultramontane Baron Scarpia. The underlying theme of the opera can be summed up by the old sacristan, who mutters, while the artist Mario is singing about his love for Tosca in church, "Do not mix the sacred with the profane."

All the characters seem to mix the sacred with the profane in varying degrees. Act I unfolds entirely in a church where jealousy, passion, anger, vengeance and lust all come into play, culminating in the magnificent Te Deum scene. Then, while the praise of God is sung, the evil Scarpia fantasizes about Tosca, exclaiming, "Tosca, you make me forget God!" His profane musings border on blasphemy; he is an example of how lust and cruelty so often go hand-in-hand.

Scarpia is a villain among villains, for there is no villain worse than an ostentatiously pious one. In Act II he tortures Mario in order to get Tosca to sleep with him; Tosca, driven to the edge of reason by Mario's cries, agrees. But when Scarpia tries to embrace her, she stabs him, crying: "This is Tosca's kiss!" Yet she does not flee all at once, but pauses to place candles around the body with a crucifix, as if at a wake. The funereal aspect combined with the frantic, broken mind of the heroine makes it one of the most powerful scenes in any opera. (Read more.)

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