The Music

The music of Vissi d’Arte is incorporated by libretti and themes, as if written especially for the play. In productions of Vissi d’Arte, abridged versions of longer arias may be used. (Since abridged versions were commonly performed for early recordings due to limited play time, this is not overly heretical.)

Act I

  1. Bullet The Introductory Medley:

  2. A STAGEHAND enters. He bumps a dusty Gramophone machine as he passes through. After he exits, a medley of opera overtures begins to play. As if summoned by the music, GHOST ENRICO enters, emerging from behind the opera paraphernalia. GHOST ENRICO walks among the items on stage, laughing, crying, and dancing as he looks around nostalgically. The music cycles through brief selections from the Overture to Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, the Prelude to Bizet’s Carmen, the dramatic opening of the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Wagner’s Die Walküre, and the bittersweet Meditation from Massenet’s Thaïs. The buoyant mood is revived by the “can-can” music from the Overture to Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld.

  3. Bullet  “Entrance Of The Gods into Valhalla” (approximately the first thirty seconds) from Wagner’s Das Rheingold  
    Sung by:  instrumental   
    Scenario: The flurry of drums accompanies Ghost Caruso’s conjuring of Ghost Frances.

  4. Bullet  Overture from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville
    Sung by:  instrumental   
    Scenario: Accompanies Caruso’s misdirected flirtation with a woman in the Central Park Zoo Monkey House, and his subsequent, ignoble flight from a police officer.

  5. Bullet  “La donna è mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto
    Sung by:  Caruso   
    Scenario: Ghost Frances conjures this music as accompaniment for her accusation that Ghost Caruso, when alive, was a womanizer.

  6. Bullet  Overture from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte
    Sung by:  instrumental   
    Scenario: A selection accompanies Ghost Enrico’s conjuring of a city street scene in 1908, where the main characters are introduced as they approach a theater entrance.

  7. Bullet  “E soffito . . . e pareti . . .” (instrumental beginning only) from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly
    Sung by:  instrumental
    Scenario: The beginning music from Madama Butterfly accompanies the transition to the theater interior, where the characters have gathered for a rehearsal of that opera.

  8. Bullet  “Vogliatemi bene” (soprano’s beginning only) from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly
    Sung by:  Farrar
    Scenario: In the beginning of this duet, Cho-cho-san is asking Pinkerton to love her “a little,” and here--in the context of the rehearsal--it acts as the introduction of the stormy love affair between Toscanini and Farrar.

  9. Bullet  “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni
    Sung by:  Farrar and Scotti
    Scenario: Although Farrar is singing this duet seduction and demurral with Scotti, it is clear that the soprano is really addressing the conductor, Toscanini, as their relationship begins.

  10. Bullet  “Je veux vivre . . .” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette
    Sung by:  Alda
    Scenario: Toscanini and Farrar dance a fantasy waltz to the accompaniment of soprano Alda’s singing.

  11. Bullet  “Dawn & Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung
    Sung by:  instrumental
    Scenario: With heroic swells from this music in the background, Fremstad-Gadski (in full Brünnhilde regalia) suddenly gives Toscanini an exuberant hug--to his obvious discomfort. “Those Italians” have been accepted into the New York City opera scene, even by those who’d been most concerned about the Wagner repertoire.

  12. Bullet  “Voi Che Sapete” from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro
    Sung by:  Mezzo
    Scenario: Gatti uses the Mezzo’s singing of this aria in rehearsal as a proxy expression of his feelings for Alda.

  13. Bullet  Bridal Chorus from Wagner’s Lohengrin
    Sung by:  an instrumental version of the chorus is fine
    Scenario: A dazed and confused Alda suddenly finds herself being married, while Ghost Frances tries desperately, and ineffectively, to talk her living self out of going through with it.

  14. Bullet  Overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro
    Sung by:  instrumental
    Scenario: Following Alda’s whirlwind marriage to Gatti, this apropos music accompanies the tranisition to the Hotel Knickerbocker dining room for the wedding celebration.

  15. Bullet  “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville
    Sung by:  Scotti
    Scenario: Slightly drunk, the baritone gives an exuberant, impromptu performance of the famed “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” to help him describe the life of an in-demand opera star.

Act II

  1. Bullet  “Dôme epais le jasmin” (the Flower Duet) from Lakmé by Delibes
    Sung by:  Alda and Mezzo
    Scenario: To help overcome their fear of U-Boats while onboard the steamship Canopic in 1914, Caruso coaches Gatti, Toscanini, Farrar, Scotti, and Female Singers 1 & 2 in an extempore meditation session. From his description of a pleasant day of punting on the Thames, we drift into the faraway world of this gorgeous duet.

  2. Bullet  Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana
    Sung by:  instrumental
    Scenario: Ballet dancer Rosini Galli dances slowly and gracefully to this poignant music. Ghost Frances interjects briefly to remind Ghost Caruso that this was the young girl with whom her husband, Signor Gatti, had a long-term affair. When the dance ends, Gatti steps forward, and we witness the beginning of his flirtation with the dancer.

  3. Bullet  “Celeste Aïda” (excluding initial fanfare) from Verdi’s Aïda
    Sung by:  Caruso
    Scenario: This aria highlights Gatti’s thoughts about his wife, and his wife’s ghost’s memories about their relationship. It also acts as a comic platform for Alda, Scotti, and Caruso when the soprano and baritone play “keep away” with Caruso’s helmet from Aïda.
         “Alda, come on--give me back the hat! What kind of Radames would I be without a hat?”

  4. Bullet  Brindisi (“Libiamo ne' lieti calici”) from Verdi’s La traviata
    Sung by:  Caruso, Alda, and Chorus
    Scenario: This drinking song highlights examples of an attribute shared by Enrico Caruso and Frances Alda: a thirst for life.


  6. A “thirst for life.” This reminds me of an old saying in Napoli: “Drink deeply from the cup of life, ‘cause you’ll probably just trip on the rug and spill the rest anyway.”


  8. I think it must lose something in the translation.

  1. Bullet  “Porgi amor” from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro
    Sung by:  Alda (offstage)
    Scenario: As if it is the voice of his wife calling to him, this aria heralds Toscanini’s breakup with Farrar, ending their seven-year affair.

  2. Bullet  “Un bel di” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly
    Sung by:  Farrar
    Scenario: This poignant aria follows Toscanina’s breakup with Farrar and gives a powerful end to Act II. Despite the show she tries to put on, the diva is heartbroken.


  1. Bullet  “Quand je vous aimerai?” (the Habañera) from Bizet’s Carmen
    Sung by:  Farrar and Chorus
    Scenario: Having gone to Hollywood in 1915 to make the silent film version of Carmen with Cecil B. DeMille, the indomitable Farrar shows that she has rebounded, post-Toscanini, with a dynamic performance of the famed Habañera.

  2. Bullet  Habañera reprise from end of Act I in Bizet’s Carmen
    Sung by:  Farrar (offstage) and instrumental
    Scenario: The scene has transitioned from the opera stage to the theater wings or backstage in the same performance of Carmen. Farrar is heard singing the Habañera reprise at the finale to Act I. When the reprise ends, Caruso is heard to cry out in pain. Following the raucous instrumental ending to Carmen’s Act I, Caruso enters, holding his arm as he runs into the wings. He declares that Farrar has bitten him!

  3. (FARRAR enters the wings with a wild and triumphant expression on her face. Applause and shouts of approval can be heard)


  5. You keep away from me, Gerry! I don’t know what you think you’re doing out there, but you’ve gone crazy!


  7. That is la Carmencita! In Hollywood, Mr. DeMille taught me to find her true, turbulent nature. I do believe I’ve captured her essence!

  8. ALDA

  9. Somebody needs to capture you and put you in a straitjacket.

  1. Bullet  “Ride Of The Valkyries” from Wagner’s Die Walküre
    Sung by:  instrumental
    Scenario: The Valkyries are onstage with spears waving as this famous music begins, but they are interrupted by an announcement that the USA has declared war on Germany. Afterward, the music resumes briefly while the Valkyries are enveloped by darkness.

  2. Bullet  Intermezzo from Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz
    Sung by:  instrumental
    Scenario: Another big announcement is made: For the first time, at age 45, Enrico Caruso has married!

  3. Bullet  “Toréador, en garde” from Bizet’s Carmen
    Sung by:  Scotti
    Scenario: Coinciding with jokes about newly married Caruso having a “ring through the nose,” several of the stars play at charging bull during an informal Carmen rehearsal.

  4. Bullet  “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci
    Sung by:  Caruso
    Scenario: Despite being in terrible pain due to his oncoming illness, Caruso “goes on with the show” for a performance attended by the visiting Toscanini.

  5. Bullet  “E lucevan le stelle” from Puccini’s Tosca
    Sung by:  Caruso
    Scenario: In a classically operatic death scene, Caruso is on his death bed, looking out a nearby window, while his wife Dorothy holds his hand, distraught. Caruso steps from his bed, unnoticed by Dorothy because it is only in the dying man’s imagination that this happens. He sings this beautiful farewell to life.

  6. Bullet  “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca
    Sung by:  Farrar
    Scenario: Ghost Enrico and Ghost Frances give their farewells by reminding us again to cherish life. Ghost Frances tell us: “No matter how ill-used you feel at  times, no matter what tribulations you face--take refuge wherever it is that you find beauty. Open your mind to the music and drama and passion of life! And don’t miss one single note.” Farrar accents this sentiment and ends the play with “Vissi d’arte.”