SCARPIA by Piers Paul Read


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The back story of Puccini’s opera Tosca.

Early on we meet Floria Tosca, a 15-year-old peasant girl from the Venetian countryside. She's gifted with a beautiful voice, which is noticed in 1789 by a bishop who hears her singing in her local parish choir. He invites her to Venice—promising her parents she will be safely housed in a convent when she’s not soloing in the cathedral. But soon a nobleman, Prince Belgioioso d’Este, persuades her that only an operatic career would fully exploit her gifts. Scarpia, the villain in Tosca, is the much more likable main character here. A member of the lesser nobility, this young Sicilian is drummed out of the Spanish army for insubordinate acts of derring-do. He makes his way to Rome, where he's offered a respectable if less-than-adventurous post with the papal guards. As revolution overtakes France, he's sent to Venice to assess that city’s readiness for French anti-royalist aggression. There, he has a brief romantic encounter with Tosca. Back in Rome, Scarpia enjoys the patronage of the pope’s treasurer, Ruffo, who educates him in the internecine intrigues and pitfalls of Roman society and ultimately negotiates a marriage for him to a princess, Paola. Scarpia and Paola both welcome the match, and to place them on an equal footing, the pope elevates him to the rank of baron. Napoleon’s star rises and his forces conquer Rome, exacting a high price in fines and works of art from both the papacy and the nobility. Paola falls prey to the blandishments of a sinister French portrait painter, while Scarpia is exiled, triggering the events detailed in the opera. A character list is sorely needed, and often, story and conflict struggle to stay afloat in a deluge of exposition.

Overly ornate though engrossing depiction of a tumultuous period in Italian history, when the French looted Italian treasures for the Louvre and deposed the pope.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63286-324-9
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2016


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