The Play and the Opera in Historical Perspective
by Susan Vandiver Nicassio
The University of Chicago Press, 1999
|In Tosca's Rome, Susan Vandiver Nicassio explores the historical realities that lie behind Giacomo Puccini's opera and the play by Victorien Sardou on which it is based.
The author is an associate professor of history at the University of Southwestern Lousiana. She is also a former opera singer who has sung the role of Tosca. Unlike some academics, Professor Nicasio writes a very clear prose that is quite pleasant to read, totally free of academic jargon. She also demonstrates considerable knowledge of her subject.
I can recall that when I first listened to Tosca during my high-school days, many questions arose in my mind. Where was the Pope during the events of the opera? Was Scarpia an employee of the Pope? What was the Queen of Naples doing in Rome? The book answers such questions and many more.
The author explains in some detail the historical events affecting Rome in 1800 and the few years before. Tosca occurred during a papal interregnum. The allies against Napoleon, among them the Kingdom of Naples and the Austrian Empire, had recently taken Rome from a short-lived French-supporting Republic
The book contains interesting information about life in Rome at the close of the eighteenth century . Chapters are devoted to "The Painter's Rome," "The Singer's Rome," and "The Policeman's Rome." I found the chapter about "The Singer's Rome" especially interesting. I had not been aware that the prohibition against women singing in Church had its counterpart applied to the opera stage in the Papal States until 1798.
Chapters also explore each of the opera's three acts, describing in some detail the historical reality corresponding to the action in the opera.
I found the book to be very enjoyable reading, and would definitely say that it is the best book that I have ever read about an opera.
--John R. Pierce, 2000