Simanaitis Says

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MY COPY OF Augustus J.C. Hare’s Walks in Rome is its Seventeenth Edition, published in 1905. Even in 2018 it’s still a charming guidebook for visiting the eternal city. And in 1905, Walks in Rome could have served as an extended opera program for Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, which had its premiere at Rome’s Teatro Costanzi on January 14, 1900.

Today in Part 1, I set the stage for Tosca tidbits, as seen through the perspective of Hare’s guidebook. Tomorrow in Part 2, Hare serves as a tour guide to Roman locales of the opera’s three acts.

Tosca Summary. Puccini’s Tosca has historical relevance: Napoleon’s June 1800 threatened invasion of Rome. Three of the opera’s Roman locales remain tourist attractions to this day. Act 1’s Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle is where Floria Tosca’s boyfriend Mario Cavaradossi gets in trouble, both with authorities for his political views and also with Tosca for his painting a blonde in his church mural. Act 2’s Palazzo Farnese is the bachelor pad of Chief of Police/opera heavy Baron Scarpia, who’s killed by Tosca thwarting his attempted rape. Act 3’s Castel Sant’Angelo prison is where Cavaradossi is executed in a Scarpia post-demise double-cross and Tosca leaps to her death off the parapet.

O, Scarpia, Avanti a Dio!” she cries, “O Scarpia, we meet before God!”

On a Lighter Note. This dramatic conclusion has been associated with delightful operatic disasters, some apocryphal. In one, an ill-directed firing squad followed Tosca in jumping off the parapet. Another had the diva rebounding back into audience view after disgruntled stagehands replaced her off-parapet mattress with a trampoline.

Walks in Rome, by Augustus J.C. Hare, Seventeenth Edition with plans, &c. by St. Clair Baddeley, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1905. The link here is for a modern paperback by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

Hare’s Dull-Useful Information. Chapter 1 of Walks in Rome is titled “Dull–Useful Information.” However, from today’s perspective, it’s anything but dull. And, at times, Hare’s writing is quite witty.

On Accommodations. After the usual hotel and pension prattle, the guidebook notes, “An apartment for a small family in one of the best situations can seldom be obtained for less than from 300 to 500 francs a month.”

Hare doesn’t provide any information on exchange rates, but my 1905 Baedeker’s Northern France set 6 francs to the U.S. dollar; thus, $50-$83/month for that small family’s best Roman digs. Figure around $1434-$2380 in 2018 dollars. I haven’t checked, but this sounds pretty cheap for a “best situation” in Rome today.

“The English,” notes Hare, “almost all prefer to reside in the neighbourhood of the Piazza di Spagna.”

Rome’s Piazza di Spagna, with the steps of Trinità di Monti in the background. Image from Port Mobility Civitavecchia.

For those dwelling nearby, Hare adds, “Trattorie send out dinners to families in apartments in a tin box, with a stove, for which the bearer calls the next morning. A dinner for six francs used to be sufficient for three persons, and to leave enough for luncheon next day.”

Hare also notes, “Miss Wilson, 22 Piazza di Spagna, has a small well-managed library, and notices of all kinds are posted here.”

Castel Sant’Angelo is toward the upper left, about 1/2 mile east of St. Peter’s. The Piazza di Spagna is 5/8 mile east of Sant’Angelo; Palazzo Farnese is about 5/8 mile south of Sant’Angelo. The Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle is just across the Campo di Fiori from the Palazzo, perhaps 1/8 mile to the east. Map from Walks in Rome.

I suspect there would have been a notice at Miss Wilson’s announcing the January 14, 1900, debut of Tosca at the Teatro Costanzi. Tomorrow in Part 2, Hare leads us on a tour of the three locales for Acts 1, 2, and 3, respectively. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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