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In "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca, she says the following:

Sempre con fè sincera
diedi fiori agl'altar
...
Diedi gioielli della Madonna al manto
e diedi il canto agli astri, al ciel
che ne ridean più belli

Assuming altar is an apocope of altare, why agl'altar here?

One thought I had was that maybe it was plural:

a gli altari = agli altari = agl'altari = agl'altar

But I couldn't find a single translation that translates it as plural ("altars"). I'm also not sure if this is how Italian works (she also says agli astri without any contraction later).

My question: Are agl'altar and all'altar(e) synonyms? If so, is there a reason to chose one over the other?

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    It's not quite 100% perfect Italian, as you noticed yourself (the correct form would be agli altari). It is understandable to a native speaker though and I assume it was chosen for reasons of meter. It might be worth saying that to my ears what Mirella Freni says is much more similar to all'altar, in the singular form. It's not like agl'altar and all'altar are very different in pronunciation... – Denis Nardin Mar 27 '17 at 13:02
  • I think it should be "agli altar": opera.stanford.edu//Puccini/Tosca/act2.html (but I've not listened to Mirella Freni in the video). – Charo Mar 27 '17 at 13:09
  • @Charo I'm an idiot. I didn't think of looking at the libretto for the actual opera All of those translations are wrong, then. Take a look here, it's translated as "I brought flowers to the altars". My world has been shaken a little bit. – user3350226 Mar 27 '17 at 13:22
  • I saw some mentions online of stuff like agl'Altar so I was starting to assume agl' was like an "elevated" form of all' or something (like i dei and gli Dei). I shouldn't've been so quick to dismiss the possibility of it being plural. – user3350226 Mar 27 '17 at 13:24
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    "Gli" is a plural article ("agli" = "a" + "gli"), so I think the translation "to the altars" is correct. As explained by @DenisNardin, "altari" is truncated to "altar" for meter reasons. – Charo Mar 27 '17 at 13:29
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In order to comply with the meter, the librettista had to do a couple of adjustments:

  1. make the hiatus agli altari into a diphthong, so agli altariagl’altari (not used in standard language, it's a poetry trick);

  2. truncate the final word, so altarialtar

It is possible that some editions of the libretto have agli altar, because a singer will know that keeping the meter needs a diphthong there. For instance, http://opera.stanford.edu//Puccini/Tosca/act2.html has agli altar; however it also has fe’, which is wrong and should be . The spelling is probably in the original, because at that time the acute accent was not used.

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Are agl'altar and all'altar(e) synonyms? If so, is there a reason to chose one over the other?

The only difference is that the first is plural and the second is singular.

a + gli : a + plural article

a + lo : a + singular article

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