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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 July, 2004, 00:48 GMT 01:48 UK
Swansong for opera's 40-year run
Maria Callas
Callas got 27 curtain calls and a 40-minute ovation on opening night
The final curtain has fallen on one of the longest running and most famous opera productions of recent times at London's Royal Opera House.

Puccini's Tosca was first staged there 40 years ago, starring Maria Callas as Tosca and Tito Gobbi as the police chief Scarpia.

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, it returned to Covent Garden year on year and has been staged over 230 times.

The final one-week run of the tragic opera ended on Saturday.

The production, starring Maria Guleghina as Tosca, was a sell-out.

When Tosca first opened, in 1964, crowds queued for five days after more than 120,000 people applied for 12,000 seats.

I like to think of Callas as an angel hanging over this production, bringing it good fortune
John Cox, director, Tosca

Its lavish costumes and sets caused a stir among the critics, with the Financial Times' writer declaring the end of the first act "possibly the most splendid sight Covent Garden has seen".

On its opening night, the audience gave Maria Callas 27 curtain calls, in an ovation which went on for 40 minutes.

At 40, the famous Greek soprano hadn't sung on stage for over two years.

Numerous operatic stars have since appeared in Tosca at the Royal Opera House, including Placido Domingo, who played Tosca's lover Cavaradossi.

Legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti chose the production for his final performance at Covent Garden in 2002.

Director John Cox was called in to revamp Zeffirelli's original production in 1991.

Sold to USA

He told BBC News Online: "This was a decision taken by management. I suppose after 40 years that they thought it was time to move on and give it a fresh, more modern interpretation."

But much of the production remains unchanged, including elements of the original set.

Of the costumes, only a few original pieces remain including Tosca's shawl, which was worn by Callas herself.

Mr Cox said: "Tosca's stole has been very jealously guarded. I once asked if it could be made shorter, because our soprano is shorter than Callas and found it a little hard to manage but I was told 'no'."

The Royal Opera has sold the production, along with its sets and costumes, to the Chicago Lyric Theatre in the US, where it will continue to be directed by Mr Cox.

"The spirit of Zeffirelli presides over the production, just as the spirit of Callas presides over the role of Tosca.

"I like to think of Callas as an angel hanging over this production, bringing it good fortune," he said.

The Royal Opera House plans a new production of Tosca, saying it hopes to establish another long running success.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Richard Forrest
"This is the final curtain on the Zeffirelli production"



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