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Passion (musical)

Original Broadway poster art
Music Stephen Sondheim
Lyrics Stephen Sondheim
Book James Lapine
Basis Ettore Scola film Passione d'Amore
Iginio Ugo Tarchetti novel Fosca
Productions 1994 Broadway
1996 West End
1996 St. Louis, MO
2007 Chicago
2010 London
2013 Off-Broadway
Awards Tony Award for Best Musical
Tony Award Best Book of a Musical
Tony Award Best Original Score

Passion is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine. The story was adapted from Ettore Scola's film Passione d'Amore. Central themes include love, sex, obsession, illness, passion, beauty, power and manipulation. Passion is notable for being one of the few projects that Stephen Sondheim himself conceived, along with Sweeney Todd and Road Show.

Set in 19th century Italy, the plot concerns a young soldier and the changes in him brought about by the obsessive love of Fosca, his Colonel's homely, ailing cousin.


  • Background and history 1
  • Productions 2
    • Original Broadway production 2.1
    • Original London production 2.2
    • 2010 London revival 2.3
    • 2011 premiere in Germany 2.4
    • 2013 Off-Broadway revival 2.5
    • Other productions 2.6
  • Synopsis 3
    • Act I 3.1
    • Act II 3.2
  • Songs 4
  • Response and analysis 5
  • Awards and nominations 6
    • Original Broadway production 6.1
    • Original London production 6.2
    • 2010 London revival 6.3
    • 2013 Off-Broadway Revival 6.4
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Background and history

The story originally came from a 19th-century novel by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti, an experimental Italian writer who was prominently associated with the Scapigliatura movement. His book Fosca was a fictionalized recounting of an affair he'd once had with an epileptic woman when he was a soldier.[1]

Sondheim first came up with the idea of writing a musical when he saw the Italian film in 1983:

As Fosca started to speak and the camera cut back to her, I had my epiphany. I realized that the story was not about how she is going to fall in love with him, but about how he is going to fall in love with her . . . at the same time thinking, "They're never going to convince me of that, they're never going to pull that off," all the while knowing they would, that Scola wouldn't have taken on such a ripely melodramatic story unless he was convinced that he could make it plausible. By the end of the movie, the unwritten songs in my head were brimming and I was certain of two things. First, I wanted to make it into a musical, the problem being that it couldn't be a musical, not even in my nontraditional style, because the characters were so outsized. Second, I wanted James Lapine to write it; he was a romantic, he had a feel for different centuries and different cultures, and he was enthusiastically attracted to weirdness.[2]

As it turned out, Lapine was already exploring the idea of adapting Muscle, a memoir by Sam Fussell, for the musical stage. Together, they came up with the idea of a pair of double-billing one acts. Lapine wrote a couple of scenes and Sondheim had just started working on the opening number when he began to feel that his musical style was unsuitable for Muscle. The piece was more contemporary and, in his opinion, required a score reflecting pop sensibilities. He called up Lapine and suggested that he find another songwriter, perhaps William Finn, and include it as a companion piece. Meanwhile, they continued to work on Passion and as the piece grew, they found that it was enough to fill out an entire evening of theatre. Muscle was eventually shelved.[3]


Original Broadway production

The role of Fosca was originally offered to Donna Murphy as Fosca and Marin Mazzie as Clara. Scenic Design was by Adrianne Lobel, Costume Design by Jane Greenwood, Lighting Design by Beverly Emmons, and orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. This production was filmed shortly after closing and televised on the Public Broadcasting Service "American Playhouse" on September 8, 1996. (It was released on DVD in 2003 by Image Entertainment.) The musical ran a total of 280 performances, making it the shortest-running musical ever to win the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Original London production

The show opened in the Maria Friedman as Fosca (Friedman had previously appeared in several Sondheim musicals in the UK). The production ran for 232 performances. A recording was later made of the show performed in concert, with nearly all of the original London cast recreating their roles and preserving the musical changes from the earlier production.

2010 London revival

A production at the Donmar Warehouse in London, as part of Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday celebrations, opened on September 10, 2010 in previews, with the official opening September 21, running through November 27. The director is Donmar associate director Jamie Lloyd, and the cast included Argentine actress Elena Roger, as well as Scarlett Strallen and David Thaxton.[4][5] This production won the Evening Standard Awards, Best Musical Award.[6] David Thaxton won the Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical.[7]

2011 premiere in Germany

Passion received its German-language premiere (translated by Roman Hinze) on January 28, 2011 at the Dresden State Operetta. Directed by Holger Hauer, the lead roles were filled by Marcus Günzel (Giorgio), Maike Switzer (Clara) and Vasiliki Roussi (Fosca). Choir and orchestra of the Dresden State Operetta performed under the musical direction of Peter Christian Feigel. A special feature of this production was its orchestral arrangement for a symphonic orchestra, including a great string ensemble, harpsichord and harp, with no electronic instruments being used and modifications to the musical score being made in cooperation with the composer. “Passion” ran at the Dresden State Operetta in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons. The work was performed for the CD label “bobbymusic” from August 22 to 25, 2012 using the same performers. It is the first recording in German, and the first recording of the entire work with all of the musical numbers and spoken texts. Since December 2, 2013 the double CD has been on sale at the Dresden State Operetta ( as well as online ( or

2013 Off-Broadway revival

The show was mounted at the

  • Passion at the Internet Broadway Database
  • on the Stephen Sondheim Reference GuidePassion
  • Passion at the Music Theatre International website
  • Passion - A musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine
  • changed during its difficult previewsPassionHow , a 1994 article from The Sondheim Review.

External links

  • Original Broadway Cast Album booklet
  1. ^ Secrest, Meryl. Stephen Sondheim: A Life. Delta; new edition (1999), 337
  2. ^ a b Sondheim, Stephen. Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011). Knopf (2011), 177
  3. ^ Secrest, Meryl. Stephen Sondheim: A Life. Delta; new edition (1999), 379
  4. ^ Listing
  5. ^ Shenton, Mark."Sondheim's 'Passion' Opens at London's Donmar Warehouse Sept. 21", September 21, 2010
  6. ^ Shenton, Mark."'Passion' and Clybourne Park Win Evening Standard Awards; Sir Peter Hall, Michael Gambon Honored", November 28, 2010
  7. ^ "David Thaxton Wins Best Actor in a Musical", Olivier Awards, 13 March 2011. Retrieved 2011-03-14.
  8. ^ [4], The New York Times. Patricia Cohen. "Classic Stage Season to Begin with Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Allegro'." March 6, 2014. Retrieved July 15, 2015.
  9. ^ [5], Retrieved 2013-4-11.
  10. ^ The Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center, retrieved December 15, 2009
  11. ^ Anthony, Michael. "Classical:Sondheim's 'Passion'", Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), p. 11F, February 22, 2004
  12. ^ "Pia Douwes, Vera Mann Stanley Burleson and rehearsing for Passion" (translation), June 7, 2004
  13. ^ recording in DutchPassion, retrieved December 14, 2009
  14. ^ Jones, Kenneth."Brazier, Gasteyer, Voytko Are Passion's Trio in Chicago, Oct. 2-Nov. 11",, October 2, 2007
  15. ^ Secrest, Meryl. Stephen Sondheim: A Life. Delta; new edition (1999), 386
  16. ^ a b Kakutani, Michiko."Theater:Sondheim's Passionate 'Passion'"The New York Times, March 20, 1994
  17. ^ Barnes, Clive. [6]The New York Post, May 11, 1994
  18. ^ Richards, David."Review/Theater; Sondheim Explores the Heart's Terrain"The New York Times, from Books, The New York Times on the Web, May 10, 1994
  19. ^ "Olivier Awards, 1997, retrieved December 14, 2009
  20. ^ "List of Winners, 2011", accessed March 15, 2011


Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2013 Drama Desk Awards Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Ryan Silverman Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Melissa Errico Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical Stephen Bogardous Nominated
Outstanding Director John Doyle Nominated
Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical Dan Moses Schreier Nominated
Outstanding Lighting Design Jane Cox Nominated

2013 Off-Broadway Revival

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2011 Laurence Olivier Award[20] Best Musical Revival Nominated
Best Actor in a Musical David Thaxton Won
Best Actress in a Musical Elena Roger Nominated
Evening Standard Awards Best Musical Revival Won

2010 London revival

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
1997 Laurence Olivier Award[19] Best New Musical Nominated
Best Actress in a Musical Maria Friedman Won
Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical Hugh Ross Nominated
Best Set Design Paul Farnsworth Nominated

Original London production

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
1994 Tony Award Best Musical Won
Best Book of a Musical James Lapine Won
Best Original Score Stephen Sondheim Won
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Jere Shea Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Donna Murphy Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Tom Aldredge Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Marin Mazzie Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical James Lapine Nominated
Best Costume Design Jane Greenwood Nominated
Best Lighting Design Beverly Emmons Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Musical Won
Outstanding Book of a Musical James Lapine Won
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Jere Shea Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Donna Murphy Won
Outstanding Director of a Musical James Lapine Nominated
Outstanding Orchestrations Jonathan Tunick Won
Outstanding Lyrics Stephen Sondheim Won
Outstanding Music Won
Outstanding Set Design Adrianne Lobel Nominated
Outstanding Costume Design Jane Greenwood Nominated
Outstanding Lighting Design Beverly Emmons Nominated
Theatre World Award Jere Shea Won

Original Broadway production

Awards and nominations

In his review of the Off-Broadway revival,

The New York Times review of the original Broadway production described it as an "unalloyed love story . . . The score contains some insinuating melodies. You can hear madness in the ecstatic lilt." But ultimately, the reviewer felt that "the boldness of the enterprise never quite pays off. The musical leads an audience right up to the moment of transcendence but is unable in the end to provide the lift that would elevate the material above the disturbing."[18]

Clive Barnes gave the musical a rave review: "Once in an extraordinary while, you sit in a theater and your body shivers with the sense and thrill of something so new, so unexpected, that it seems, for those fugitive moments, more like life than art. Passion is just plain wonderful — emotional and yes, passionate . . . Sondheim's music — his most expressive yet — glows and glowers, and Tunick has found the precise tonal colorations for its impressionistic moods and emotional overlays. From the start of his career, Sondheim has pushed the parameters of his art. Here is the breakthrough. Exultantly dramatic, this it the most thrilling piece of theater on Broadway."[17]

In analyzing the musical, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times wrote that Passion had "a lush, romantic score that mirrors the heightened, operatic nature of the story . . . Jonathan Tunick's orchestration plays an especially important role in lending the music a richness of texture and bringing out its sweeping melodic lines. The sets and lighting are warm and glowy and fervent, reminiscent of the colors of Italian frescoes and evocative of the story's intense, highly dramatic mood. Less a series of individual songs than a hypnotic net of music, the show's score traces the shifting, kaleidoscopic emotions of the characters, even as it draws the audience into the dreamlike world of their fevered passions."[16]

The story struck some audiences as ridiculous. They refused to believe that anyone, much less the handsome Giorgio, could come to love someone so manipulative and relentless, not to mention physically repellent, as Fosca. As the perennial banality would have it, they couldn't "identify" with the main characters. The violence of their reaction, however, strikes me as an example of " [2]

Stephen Sondheim believes that the musical is about how "the force of somebody's feelings for you can crack you open, and how it is the life force in a deadened world."[16] In response to the hostility encountered during the early performances, he has said:

Passion was generally admired by critics for its ambition but savaged by theatregoers when it first opened. In particular, audiences were repelled by the characterization of Fosca. During previews, people would applaud whenever Fosca had a meltdown. In one performance, someone from the balcony yelled "Die, Fosca! Die!"[15]

Response and analysis

+ Not included on recording

  • Happiness - Clara
  • First Letter - Clara and Giorgio
  • Second Letter - Clara and Giorgio
  • Third Letter - Clara, Giorgio and Soldiers
  • Fourth Letter - Clara
  • I Read - Fosca
  • Transition (#1) - Giorgio
  • Garden Sequence - Giorgio, Clara and Fosca
  • Transition (#2) - Soldiers
  • Trio - Fosca, Giorgio and Clara
  • Transition (#3) - Soldiers and Attendants
  • I Wish I Could Forget You - Fosca
  • Transition (#4) - Soldiers
  • Soldier's Gossip (#1) - Soldiers
  • Flashback - Colonel Ricci, Fosca, Mother, Father, Ludovic, Mistress and Ensemble
  • Sunrise Letter - Clara
  • Is This What You Call Love? - Giorgio
  • Soldiers' Gossip (#2) - Soldiers
  • Nightmare - Ensemble +
  • Transition (#5) - Rizzolli
  • Forty Days - Clara
  • Loving You - Fosca
  • Transition (#6) - Woman, Man
  • Soldiers' Gossip (#3) - Soldiers
  • Christmas Carol - Torasso +
  • Farewell Letter - Clara and Giorgio
  • No One Has Ever Loved Me - Giorgio
  • The Duel
  • Finale - Giorgio, Fosca and Ensemble

Note: No song titles are listed in the program. the titles below are designations taken from the score.


The company walks off, Fosca last, leaving Giorgio alone at his table.

Months later, Giorgio is in a hospital, dazed, recovering from a nervous breakdown. He is told that Fosca died shortly after their night together; the Colonel recovered from the wound. Dreamlike, the other characters in the story reappear as Giorgio begins reading from Fosca's last letter. Gradually her voice joins his, and together they look back on their revelations ("Finale").

The duel takes place the following morning behind the castle. Giorgio shoots at the Colonel and lets out a shrill howl eerily reminiscent of Fosca's earlier outbursts.

Having discovered the letter Fosca dictated, the Colonel accuses Giorgio of leading her on and demands a duel. The Doctor attempts to mediate the two, but Giorgio insists on seeing her again. He realizes that he loves Fosca, for no one has ever truly loved him but her. That evening, he returns to Fosca's room, knowing that the physical act might very well kill her (“No One Has Ever Loved Me”). They embrace, their passion consummated at last.

During Christmas, Giorgio is told that he has been transferred back to military headquarters. Later on, he reads Clara's newest letter, in which she asks him to wait until her son is grown before planning a more serious commitment ("Farewell Letter"). Giorgio finds he no longer desires the carefully arranged, convenient affair that they shared ("Just Another Love Story"). He puts her letter away.

The Doctor warns Giorgio that he must stop seeing Fosca, that she threatens his mental and physical health. Giorgio requests to forgo his leave; he feels it his duty to stay and help her as much as he can. Back in Milan, Clara questions him jealously about Fosca. Giorgio asks Clara to leave her husband and start a new life with him, but as she has a child, she cannot.

The rain, the ordeal of getting Fosca back to camp and perhaps exposure to her contagious emotions have conspired to give Giorgio a fever. He falls into a slumber and dreams that Fosca is dragging him down into the grave ("Nightmare"). The Doctor sends him off to Milan on sick leave ("Forty Days"). As he boards the train, he is followed once again by Fosca. She apologizes for causing his sickness and promises to keep her distance for good. Giorgio pleads with her to give him up. She explains that this cannot happen. Her love is not a choice, it is who she is, and she would gladly die for him ("Loving You"). Giorgio is finally moved by the force of her emotions. He takes her back to the outpost ("Transition").

Meanwhile, Clara has written Giorgio a letter ("Sunrise Letter") addressing her approaching age, in which she admits her fear of losing love when she is old and no longer beautiful. Giorgio makes his way to a desolate mountain and is in the midst of reading when Fosca appears. After Giorgio lashes out at her in anger ("Is This What You Call Love?"), she crumples and faints. He picks her up and carries her back in the rain.

The soldiers gossip about Giorgio and Fosca while playing pool ("Soldiers' Gossip"). The Colonel thanks Giorgio for the kindness he has shown his cousin and explains her history. As a child, Fosca was doted on by her parents and once had illusions about her looks. When she was seventeen, the Colonel introduced her to an Austrian count named Ludovic. Fosca was taken with him, though she had her reservations. Once they were married, Ludovic took all of her family's money. Fosca eventually discovered that he had another wife and a child. When confronted, he smoothly admitted to his deception and vanished. It was then that Fosca first became ill. After her parents died, she went to live with the Colonel, who felt responsible for her circumstances ("Flashback").

Act II

He enters Fosca's chamber, and she implores him to lie beside her while she sleeps. At daybreak, Fosca asks him for a favor before he leaves: "Write a letter for me." He complies, but the letter she imagines is a fantasy one from Giorgio to herself (“I Wish I Could Forget You”). She is seized by another convulsive attack, and he hastens from the room.

Upon Giorgio's return, Fosca reproaches him. She demands to know about his affair with Clara and learns that she is married. In a sharp exchange, they agree to sever all ties. Weeks go by with no contact between them, but just as he is beginning to think that he is finally free of Fosca, he is informed by the Doctor that she is dying. His rejection of her love has exacerbated her illness. Giorgio, whose job as a soldier is to save lives, must go and visit her sickbed. He reluctantly agrees.

Giorgio and Clara exchange letters about Fosca. Clara urges him to avoid her whenever possible. When Giorgio is preparing to take a five-day leave, Fosca shows up unexpectedly, dissolving into hysteria and begging him to return soon. Fosca is next seen reading, stone-faced, from a letter Giorgio has sent rejecting her feelings as he and Clara make love ("Trio").

The following afternoon, the Colonel, the Doctor, Giorgio and Fosca go for a walk together. As they stroll through a castle's neglected garden, Giorgio politely engages her in conversation while mentally narrating a letter to Clara. When Fosca confesses that she feels no hope in her life, he tells her that "the only happiness that we can be certain of is love." Fosca is hurt and embarrassed, but recognizes that Giorgio, like herself, is different from others, and asks for his friendship ("Garden Sequence").

Fosca arrives after dinner to thank Giorgio for the books. When he suggests she keep a novel longer to meditate over it, she explains that she does not read to think or search for truth, but to live vicariously through the characters. She then goes off into a dark musing on her life ("I Read"). Giorgio awkwardly changes the subject, but when he observes a hearse pulling up, she is overtaken by a hysterical convulsion. Giorgio is stunned and appalled ("Transition").

In Milan in 1863, two lovers are at the height of ecstasy ("Happiness"). The handsome captain, Giorgio, breaks their reverie by telling Clara that he is being transferred to a provincial

Act I

The musical is usually presented in one act. An intermission was added only for the London production.


The work was presented at the Silvie Paladino as Clara.

[14] The show was done at

A semi-staged concert, starring Audra McDonald as Clara, was held at Lincoln Center in New York for three performances, March 30 - April 1, 2005. Directed by Lonny Price, this production was broadcast on the PBS television show "Live From Lincoln Center" on March 31, 2005. The score in this production preserved the musical revisions from the London version. This same cast had performed at the Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, Illinois, on August 22–23, 2003.

In 2004 the show was performed in the Netherlands, and a Dutch language recording was released—one of the few translations of a Sondheim score. This production had Vera Mann as Fosca, Stanley Burleson as Giorgio and Pia Douwes as Clara.[12][13]

[11] The work was presented by the

The musical made its regional premiere at Rebecca Luker as Clara.[10]

Other productions

[9]'s Sondheim Celebration production, replaced the ill Errico on this recording)Kennedy Center, who played the role of Clara in the Rebecca Luker. (PS Classics and took a minimalist approach to the piece, though there were no instruments onstage. The run was extended through April 2013 and a two-disc cast recording was released on July 2nd from John Doyle The production was helmed by [8]

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