Friday, April 13, 2018

“I dedicated my Tosca tonight to the suffering people in Syria. I pray for peace and an end of violence around the globe. The world should learn again to listen to each other. Love and the art should reign again.”—Russian opera singer Svetlana Kasyan, tonight after singing the lead role in the opera Tosca, by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), in the Rome Opera House.
Svetlana (photo), one of Russia’s outstanding young sopranos, won thunderous applause — “Brava! Brava!” — for this evening’s performance.
Svetlana is herself of Georgian and Syrian descent, and was herself a refugee as a child.
Nearly five years ago in Rome, on November 12, 2013, she sang in a “Concert for Peace” that our own Urbi et Orbi Foundation organized to thank Pope Francis for his “Prayer for Peace” in Syria on September 7, 2013 in St. Peter’s Square. Svetlana met Pope Francis at the time and received his blessing for herself, her art, her voice, and for the child, Natalya, whom she was already carrying in her womb. Svetlana is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and is the wife of Leonid Sevastianov, a leader of the Old Believer Russian Orthodox community in Russia and Director of the St. Gregory the Theologian Charitable Foundation, a partner of the Urbi et Orbi Foundation in a number of cultural and educational initiatives aimed at bringing greater mutual understanding between Catholics and Orthodox, and between Russians and Americans. Because Svetlana brings a profound level of spiritual commitment to her high level of artistic accomplishment, we regard her as one of the most remarkable figures in contemporary opera.


At the NAC, at the Opera…

Last night, a packed house at the North American College (affectionately called “the NAC”) in Rome, for a fund-raising dinner to help the mission of the college — to form holy and learned priests to serve the Church in the United States.

Tonight, a moving performance by a Russian soprano of the lead role in the opera Tosca by Puccini in a packed Rome Opera Theater.

Two signs of hope in a world which still, at this moment, seems to hesitate on the edge of an expansion of the bitter conflict in Syria, while many pray for the cessation of that long civil war, and the coming of a just peace.


The NAC Annual Dinner

The North American College is arguably one of the most important seminaries in the world. Each year some 250 American seminarians study here.

The guests of honor were the 2018 Rector’s Award Honorees: the American Dominican theologian Most Reverend Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P., Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Mrs. Judy Barrett, Owner, Chateau Montelena Winery (photos below).

Since 1991, the Rector’s Dinner has been held each year in Rome at the North American College’s Janiculum Hill campus. The event is attended by alumni, guests from the United States, dignitaries from the Rome Diplomatic Corps, the Vatican Curia, the Italian nobility, and prominent members of the American and European business worlds.

Present were Callista Gingrich (her photo is the 25th down in the archive linked below), the American Ambassador to the Vatican, and her husband Newt Gingrich.

Also present were a number of cardinals (among them, McCarrick, Mueller, Ouellet, Dolan, Cupich, Mamberti, O’Brien, Wuerl, Harvey, Levada, Rigali, Farrell, Martino).

Also present were many members of the Papal Foundation, in Rome for their annual Rome pilgrimage, in an atmosphere marked by a certain tension due to differing views about a large grant the Foundation has been asked to give — and has partially given — to support a dermatological clinic in Rome which has been in financial difficulties.

Also present were a number of Catholic writers and journalists, ranging from George Weigel to John Allen, from Edward Pentin to Joan Lewis, from Thomas Williams to Father Robert Sirico.

Sirico is well-known as the founder of the Acton Institute, dedicated to the promotion of free market economics within a Judeo-Christian moral framework, but — as he explained to me — for the past six years he has been a parish priest in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

There he has helped to revivify a dying parochial school on the verge of closing.

“My first and best decision was to institute daily Mass for the whole school,” Sirico said.

Wikipedia writes: “In 2013, Sirico embarked on a mission to revitalize the then-dwindling Sacred Heart Academy, the school at the Grand Rapids parish where he serves as pastor. He instituted a classical curriculum and boosted the amount of regular prayer while weaning the school off all government support. The reforms have driven a fourfold increase in enrollment in as many years, a small but solid victory for the mixture of faith and unencumbered industry Father Sirico preaches at Acton.”

Sirico said the revitalization of the school is the single work in his life that he is most proud of. (To support this small, flourishing school, which perhaps could become a model for revitalizing Catholic parish schools, go to this link.)

The NAC evening was expertly organized by Mark Randall, the Executive Director for Institutional Advancement of the NAC.

Also present at the head table was Mariae Gloria, Princess of Thurn und Taxis. After the death some years ago of her husband, Johannes, 11th Prince of Thurn und Taxis, this thoughtful German noblewoman went into isolation, then, after a spiritual pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France, emerged as one of the world’s leading Roman Catholic activists and philanthropists.

Here is a link to photos of the evening (link).

The Rector’s Dinner was first proposed by the late Thomas Melady, former United States Ambassador to the Holy See. It was formally initiated in 1991 by His Eminence, Edwin Cardinal O’Brien, former Rector of the College, now the head of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre..

Through the years, the Rector’s Dinner has provided the opportunity to engage friends and benefactors from Rome, the United States and other parts of the world in the College’s vibrant life and its unique role in the Roman Catholic Church in North America.

If you would like to make a donation to the North American College, here is a link.


Svetlana: Diva with Soul

Now, to this evening.

This evening in Rome, the Russian diva Svetlana Kasyan gave a very special performance as the lovely, pious, star-crossed lover, Tosca.

Indeed, because of her youth, her beauty, her sensitivity and her compelling spirituality, Svetlana’s Tosca must arguably be numbered among the most gentle, most attractive and most spiritual Toscas ever performed.

The crowd gave Svetlana a dramatic two-minute ovation after she sang the famous aria, “I lived for art, I lived for love” in the Second Act.

Here is a brief outline of the action of the Opera, which is set entirely in Rome, first in the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, then in the Farnese Palace, and finally in the Castel Sant’Angelo:

Composed 1896-1899.
First performed January 14, 1900.
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica (in Itarian),after Sardou.

Act 1

(Svetlana in Act 1, in the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle)

On 17th June, 1800, Rome is ruled by fear. Republicanism collapses, and shifts to royalism. Scarpia, general of the secret police, on the side of royalism, commits many Republicans to prison. One of the Republicans, Angelotti, succeeds in breaking out of prison, and rushes into the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. There, he meets up with another republican, the artist Mario Cavaradossi, Tosca’s lover. Cavaradossi harbors Angelotti in his secret hideout and gives him food and drink before quickly pushing him back into hiding as Tosca can be heard approaching the chapel.

(Tosca finds her lover, Cavaradossi, painting in the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, and agrees to meet with him that evening)

Tosca, who is a professional singer and known for her beautiful voice and her religious piety, is nevertheless a jealous woman. She questions Mario about his faithfulness and love to her before reminding him of their planned rendezvous later that evening.

After the two men have left the church, Scarpia, chasing Angelotti, enters the church. Scarpia can’t find Angelotti, but meets Tosca there. Scarpia tricks Tosca into going to Cavaradossi’s house, and has his subordinates follow her.

Act 2

In the Farnese Palace, Scarpia receives word that his subordinates can’t find Angelotti, but have arrested Cavaradossi. Scarpia tortures Cavaradossi, but Cavaradossi doesn’t confess Angelotti’s whereabouts. Scarpia calls Tosca, and shows to her her lover’s tortured state. Tosca, desperate to end Cavardossi’s torture, reluctantly reveals to Scarpia the route to the secret hideout.

Then, word comes that Napoleon has won the Battle of Marengo, that is, a defeat for royalism. Cavaradossi exclaims with delight. Scarpia is furious with him, and condemns Cavaradossi to death.

Tosca then begs Scarpia to save her lover’s life. Scarpia demands that Tosca yield herself to him in exchange for her lover’s life. Reluctantly, Tosca agrees. But as Scarpia goes to embrace Tosca, she stabs him to death with a knife from the table. She then sings her great aria.

Act 3

Tosca runs to Cavaradossi who is confined to the prison at the Castle of Sant’Angelo. She had asked Scarpia, before killing him, to order Mario’s executioners to shoot blanks. So she believes her lover, Mario, will survive a fake shooting. But, the firing squad carries out the original order, and shoots Cavaradossi with real bullets, killing him. She is horrified. Then, Scarpia’s subordinates rush in to arrest Tosca for Scarpia’s murder, just discovered. An inconsolable Tosca, seeing Mario has been executed, then kills herself as well by leaping from the castle wall…


Here are the lyrics to the famous aria sung by Tosca in the second act.

Tosca asks God why He has repaid her many acts of kindness and mercy toward the poor during her life, her many acts of religious piety, with this tragic fate, the fate of having the man she loves tortured, and of having the man she hates demanding that she yield to him to save her beloved.

Svetlana tonight sang this aria with extraordinary emotional intensity, expressing — as she told me after her performance — her own sorrow, her personal sorrow as well as her sorrow as Tosca, for everyone who is dying in the Middle East, praying to God as she sang that that conflict will soon end, and that peace will come again to a region which, she said, is much loved by God…

Here is the text in Italian and in English translation…

Vissi d’arte

Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,
non feci mai male ad anima viva!
Con man furtiva
quante miserie conobbi aiutai.
Sempre con fè sincera
la mia preghiera
ai santi tabernacoli salì.
Sempre con fè sincera
diedi fiori agl’altar.
Nell’ora del dolore
perché, perché, Signore,
perché me ne rimuneri così?
Diedi gioielli della Madonna al manto,
e diedi il canto agli astri, al ciel,
che ne ridean più belli.
Nell’ora del dolor
perché, perché, Signor,
ah, perché me ne rimuneri così?

I lived for art

I lived for art, I lived for love,
I never did harm to a living soul.
With a furtive hand,
all the troubles I encountered I sought to help.
Always with sincere faith,
my prayer
rose to the holy tabernacles.
Always with sincere faith,
I brought flowers to the altars.
In my hour of sorrow,
why, why, Lord,
why do you repay me so?
I gave jewels to the Madonna’s mantle,
and I gave my singing to the stars in heaven,
which then shined more beautifully.
In my hour of sorrow,
why, why, Lord,
oh, why do you repay me so?

(to be continued)

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