Poet and rocker Patti Smith has written an intimate memoir worthy of an opera--a tale of love, artistic triumph and personal loss.
The book, "Just Kids," is Smith's long, loving song-poem chronicling the mutual relationship of artist and muse she had with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late sixties and seventies, in New York. She begins her narrative with the call from Robert's brother, announcing her former lover's death from AIDS-related pneumonia. She writes:
"I stood motionless, frozen; then slowly, as in a dream, returned to my chair. At that moment, [Puccini's] Tosca began the great aria 'Vissi d'arte.' I have lived for love, I have lived for art. I closed my eyes and folded my hands. Providence had determined how I would say goodbye."
Give a listen to the aria performed by Renee Flemming and linked above, for a hint of the drama Patti and Robert played out together, from Coney Island to Forty-second street; from their tiny rooms in Brooklyn and then in the infamous Chelsea Hotel; crossing paths with the famous and notorious of the era, including Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix; and touched by the ghosts of Rimbaud, James Joyce, Genet, and Dylan Thomas.
Our friend and opera buff Kevin Lin says we should have linked to the Maria Callas version of the aria. Callas, he says, sings it "with absolute pathos, and she absolutely embodies the character of Tosca." I had chosen the Flemming version for its clarity, warm sound and her impeccable technique.
Listen to the two versions and tell us what you think.