(Note: Most scenes are accompanied by a well-known opera aria or instrumental selection. Go to “Vissi Music” for a complete rundown of the music and its role in the play.)
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT—the synopsis below is complete.
The ghost of tenor Enrico Caruso (Ghost Enrico) greets the audience and introduces the ghost of soprano Frances Alda (Ghost Frances). After some comic interplay between the ghosts, and a hilarious introduction to the living Caruso, the two ghost-narrators present the main characters as they arrive at a theater entrance. These include Geraldine Farrar, a soprano—and briefly a movie star—whose fame rivaled Caruso’s in their day; dictatorial conductor Arturo Toscanini; the feisty living version of Frances Alda; and theater director Giulio Gatti-Casazza, recently recruited to the New York opera scene from La Scala. The stormy relationship between diva Farrar and conductor Toscanini evolves first, followed by the less passionate, more comic relationship of Alda and Gatti. The latter relationship leads to a wedding, which Ghost Frances tries unsuccessfully to impede. Caruso, though, discovers that he is being sued for breaking a promise to marry. “Oh no! Not again!”
The main characters are onboard the steamship Canopic, returning from Europe just after World War I has begun. The nervous stars try to calm down by imagining a lazy day punting on the Thames, which leads to a dreamy rendition of the beautiful “Flower Duet” from Lakmé. But the ominous tone continues as relationships start to disintegrate. Gatti begins an affair with a ballerina, and Toscanini ends his affair with the pretentious, but truly in love, Farrar. The poignant and powerful “Un bel dì vedremo” from Madama Butterfly symbolizes her years of waiting for a commitment that never came.
The indomitable Farrar has rebounded, having married a movie star while making films with Cecil B. DeMille. She performs the “Habañera” of Bizet’s Carmen, and goes too far when she bites Caruso onstage. Alda continues in her loveless marriage, and Farrar’s husband turns out to be abusive. The two divas persevere, though, and even develop a hesitant friendship. Caruso—despite his history—meets the love of his life in his mid-forties. Sadly, he soon becomes ill. In a classically operatic death scene, he dies with his young wife at his side. Finally, the surviving characters exit the theater, mirroring the original introductions. Ghost Enrico and Ghost Frances encourage the audience members to open their minds to the music, drama, and passion of life, no matter what tribulations are faced. From Tosca, the aria “Vissi d’arte” ends the show.
Vissi d’Arte is on file with the United States Copyright Office; the registration number is PAu2-909-657. All rights are reserved to the copyright holder(s) or their assignees.
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