We love opera. As soon as you step into Scriptum, you undergo a sensory assault of the best kind: colourful and complicated objects throng your vision, the scent of leather and paper envelops you, and a wave of soaring operatic sound washes over you. Azeem is a dedicated Rossini and Puccini fan, so on sunny Oxford afternoons we enjoy brightly cheerful melodies and gracefully tragic arias in turn, while on grey and gloomy mornings I wrest control of the music to revel in the dismal splendour of both Wagner's moments of brilliance and his terrible half hours*. Customers, catching a half-remembered strain as they browse, frequently ask us what is playing. Some music buffs don't actually ask, they announce "Lovely recording; this is Callas, of course... La Scala, 1953, wasn't it?" Yes, it was, we answer, a little awestruck.
The other thing we love, naturally, is writing. Everyone here is moderately obsessed with penmanship (how could we not be?) and I am decidedly the worst. As well as working at Scriptum, I do a lot of freelance calligraphy, and Azeem wanted to combine this with his own opera fanaticism to make some beautiful cards with our ten favourite arias. There was much lively discussion - some things were said about Wagner which I shall never forgive nor forget - but the final list was:
- E lucevan le stelle from Tosca
- Addio del passato from La Traviata
- Un bel dì vedremo from Madama Butterfly
- Che farò senza Eurydice? from Orfeo ed Eurydice
- Ombra mai fu from Serse
- O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi
- Vissi d'arte from Tosca
- Casta diva from Norma
- Sempre libera from La Traviata
- Nessun dorma from Turandot
We wanted a classic, old-manuscript look to the cards, so we decided on a gothic style for the script, and a simple colour scheme of black and red, enhanced with gold-lined envelopes. It took several days of intensive writing to complete the calligraphy. The lyrics were written out first, then I broke up the lines by adding the C clef symbol, which used to be used in musical notation for vocal music before the treble and bass clefs became standard in the 19th century.
When the main aria was done, I gave each card a bright red inset first letter illustrated with a floral background, as a nod to medieval manuscript illumination. I also bookended each aria with interesting facts about each opera's premiere and role originators (the best name to write, without a doubt, was the superbly monikered Giuditta Pasta, who was the first to sing Casta Diva). Finally, we designed the box to include my favourite musical phrase from Tosca; test out your sight-reading by having a look at the notes and seeing if you can sing it!
You can now buy the cards here on our website or in store.
* If you are wondering whether Rossini actually said this about Wagner, the answer is... probably. It's by far the most accurate description of Wagner I've ever come across, in any case.