"Vissi d'Arte" Lyrics, Text Translation, and History

Patricia Racette performs Tosca's Vissi d'Arte
Patricia Racette performs the as Tosca in Puccini's opera, Tosca, at the Metropolitan Opera House on Friday, October 25, 2013. Tosca is one of the world's most performed operas, and it includes famous arias like "Vissi d'Arte.". Photo by Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

The Context of "Vissi d'Arte"

Tosca sings this exquisite aria in the 2nd act of Giacomo Puccini's opera, Tosca, one of the composer's most performed operas. Read the entire synopsis of Puccini's Tosca. 

Scarpia, Chief of the Secret Police, is investigating the escape of the Roman prisoner, Cesare Angelotti. Always suspicious of Mario Cavaradossi, the painter, Scarpia has his men bring him in for questioning when they run out of leads to find Angelotti. Mario is old friends with Angelotti, and did help him go into hiding in the first act. Despite Scarpia's use of torture, Mario remains steadfastly loyal to his friend and withstands answering any of his questions.

When Mario's lover, Floria Tosca, arrives after receiving a dinner invitation from Scarpia, Mario begs her not to say a word. When he is taken into another room, screams of pain can be heard. Scarpia tells Tosca that she can save Mario if she tells him where Angelotti is hiding. At first, she refuses to answer, but as Mario's cries intensify, she gives in and tells Scarpia everything.

Mario is escorted back into the room with Tosca, but after happily cheering when it was announced by one of Scarpia's men that Napoleon and his troops had won a battle against Scarpia's allies, Scarpia has his men throw him into prison. Amid Tosca's protests, Scarpia tells her she can save him once more as long as she sleeps with him. Tosca sings "Vissi d'Arte" after avoiding several of his advances, wondering why after all she has done, God would abandon her during this terrible time.

"Vissi d'Arte" Italian Lyrics

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
perchè, perchè, Signore,
perchè 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
perchè, perchè, Signor,
ah, perchè me ne rimuneri così?

English Translation of "Vissi d'Arte"

I lived for my art, I lived for love,
I never did harm to a living soul!
With a secret hand
I relieved as many misfortunes as I knew of.
Always with true faith
my prayer
rose to the holy shrines.
Always with true faith
I gave flowers to the altar.
In the hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
why do you reward me thus?
I gave jewels for the Madonna’s mantle,
and I gave my song to the stars, to heaven,
which smiled with more beauty.
In the hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
ah, why do you reward me thus?

The Best "Vissi d'Arte" Performances

It's pretty safe to say that Maria Callas owned the role of Tosca. Her monumental performances of "Vissi d'Arte" are legendary. Though her technique and vocal prowess may be flawed at times, the vulnerability and emotion in her delivery of both voice and acting have the ability to make you feel her heartache and pain as if they were your own. That said, there have been several other excellent performers who have filled the role:

The History of Tosca

French author and playwright, Victorien Sardou, wrote the dramatic play, La Tosca, in 1887. Two years later, Sardou toured the play in Italy, and Giacomo Puccini attended at least two performances. Inspired by what he saw, Puccini believed he could transform the play into an opera. Though Sardou preferred to have a French composer adapt his play, Puccini's publisher, Giulio Ricordi, was able to secure the rights to the play. However, when Sardou expressed his uncertainty for giving his most successful play to a relatively new composer whose music he didn't care for, Puccini abandoned the project.

As a result, Ricordi entrusted another composer, Alberto Franchetti, to work on the opera. Franchetti, who never really wanted the job it seemed, stuck with it for four years before giving up and releasing the rights back to Puccini in 1895. From there, it took Puccini another four years and countless arguments with his librettists, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, and publisher, Giulio Ricordi, to finalize the libretto and score. Despite the mixed reviews from music critics, the audiences loved the opera when it premiered in Rome's Teatro Costanzi on January 14, 1900.