30 Sep 2015

Tosca, Further Reading


The creation of Tosca was relatively straightforward, so it’s “literature,” to use an academic term, is sparse. There are, though, some books you might like to delve into which will increase your knowledge of Puccini (assuming it needs increasing), of his music for this particular opera  and, most interestingly, of the play on which it was based.

Ashbrook, William. The Operas of Puccini. Ashbrook’s discussion of each of Puccini’s operas describes first the genesis and the writing of the libretto of the piece, before going on to examine the music.

Budden, Julian. Puccini: His Life and Works. Not content with his masterly three-volume study of Verdi, Budden turned his attention to Verdi’s “heir” (as George Bernard Shaw dubbed him).  His masterly discussion of Puccini’s operas is placed in the biographical context in which they were composed.  Essential reading!

Carner, Mosco. Puccini: A Critical Biography. This was the first serious study in English. Originally published in 1958, it shocked those otorhinolaryngologically closed to the composer – mostly scholars and critics of Wagnerian ilk – who damned him, and all his works and pomps, because he wasn’t what they felt he should have been. The general public, of course, had been way ahead of those ear-nose-throat-closed musical snobs, and had been flocking to Opera Houses the world over for years to see and hear these operas.

Carner, Mosco. Giacomo Puccini: Tosca. The University of Cambridge has published a series of “Opera Handbooks.” A specific opera is chosen and “written for the serious opera-goer or record-collector as well as the student or scholar.” Individual chapters discuss the creation of the opera; musical and dramatic analysis and, finally, a listing of further sources and a discography. Usually each chapter is given to a different author. Of the 11 chapters in this handbook, only three are not by Carner, and of those three Tito Gobbi’s is the most interesting. For those of you too young to remember him, Gobbi was THE Scarpia of his generation and probably all generations after him.  So to have his thoughts not just on that role especially, but also, as a director, on Tosca and Cavaradossi, is invaluable.

John, Nicholas, ed. Tosca: Opera Guide 16. I’m not sure if these “Guides” – a collaboration between English National Opera and Covent Garden’s Royal Opera – are still being published.  The basic format was/is constant:  the libretto in the original language (heard at Covent Garden) paired with the English translation (heard at ENO);  a Thematic Guide to the music and a discography.  With lots of pictures of performers through the ages.  Just remember, all ye who come here for a direct translation of the original Italian: because it’s designed to be sung, it can not be literal.

Kleine-Ahlbrandt, W. Laird. La Tosca: The drama behind the opera.  Not only is this a translation of Sardou’s play, but K-A also gives us a biography of the author;  a historical background to the political situation before the curtain rises, and a Biographical Index, explaining who was everyone mentioned in the play.  The translation has copious footnotes.  K-A, whose doctorate was from the University of Geneva, was a Professor of History at the University of Purdue.  Essential reading!!!!

Phippips-Matz, Mary Jane. Puccini: A Biography.  Published the same year as Budden’s  book, Matz’s  concentrates almost entirely on the life of the composer.

© Dr. Paul Dorgan