Opera in three acts
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Set in Rome, a diva’s jealousy plays into the hands of the lecherous chief of police, Baron Scarpia. An escaped political prisoner seeks the help of his friend, the painter Mario Cavaradossi, the lover of the famous diva Floria Tosca. In an attempt to recapture the fugitive, Scarpia plants a seed of suspicion in Tosca and sets a dreadful trap.
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February | 12 - March | 19
With Translations In:
Estimated Run Time:
2 Hours 30 minutes
Cast & Staff
Feb 12, 16, 20, 22, 24, 27
Stefano de Peppo
Feb 12, 16, 20, 22, 24, 27
Mar 11, 19
Feb 12, 16, 20, 22, 24, 27
Mar 11, 19
The Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle
Escaped political prisoner Cesare Angelotti, finds refuge in a chapel in the church. His friend, the painter Mario Cavaradossi, discovers him and offers to help. Cavaradossi’s lover, the famous opera singer Floria Tosca, interrupts their planning. Prone to jealousy, Tosca suspects Cavaradossi of being unfaithful but he manages to calm her and they arrange to meet later that evening. Cavaradossi and Angelotti flee just before the arrival of the police chief Baron Scarpia. He discovers evidence that Angelotti was hiding in the church and suspects Cavaradossi was an accomplice in his escape. When Tosca returns, Scarpia uses the evidence to feed her jealousy and convinces her that Cavaradossi has fled with another woman. She leaves to find Cavaradossi and confront him. Scarpia exults that he now has Tosca in his power.
Scarpia’s room on an upper floor of the Farnese Palace
Scarpia anticipates his next meeting with Tosca. Cavaradossi has been arrested and brought to Scarpia but refuses to divulge Angelotti’s whereabouts. When Tosca enters the painter is taken to be interrogated while Scarpia tries to extract information from her. When Cavaradossi cries out in pain as he is tortured, she reveals where Angelotti is hidden. Cavaradossi remains defiant as he is taken to prison to be executed. Tosca pleads for her lover’s life, but Scarpia answers that only by giving herself to him can she save Cavaradossi. She agrees and Scarpia arranges for the mock execution of Cavaradossi. Thinking that he will now have her, Scarpia approaches Tosca, only to be stabbed to death.
The parapet of the Castel Sant’Angelo
The voice of a shepherd is heard as church bells signal dawn. Cavaradossi awaits execution. He bribes the jailer to allow him to write a final note to Tosca. As he writes he is flooded with memories. Tosca hurriedly enters and explains that she has killed Scarpia. She tells Cavaradossi about the mock execution and the two sing of their future life together. Cavaradossi is shot by the firing squad. After they leave Tosca approaches his body, but realizes that he is dead. When the men arrive to arrest her for Scarpia’s murder, Tosca leaps from the parapet crying out that she will meet Scarpia in God’s presence.
World premiere at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome, January 14, 1900.
In January 1900, when Giacomo Puccini presented the world premiere of Tosca in Rome, he was just forty-one. Having reached the top of his profession with Manon Lescaut (1893) and La bohème (1896), he was seen by many as the long-awaited successor to the venerable Giuseppe Verdi. Still, in 1900 the test of Puccini’s hard-earned reputation would hinge on the success of Tosca, for in the murderously competitive opera business, one fiasco could set a composer back for years or wreck his career entirely. So he could invest all his energy in preparing the production, Puccini moved to a hotel in Rome and oversaw the rehearsals himself. It was an historic moment, for that January the Holy City was packed with pilgrims and tourists celebrating a Holy Year; and this event gave Puccini’s premiere a particular cachet.
On the first night the conductor was the highly respected Leopoldo Mugnone, while the popular Emilio De Marchi took the tenor role; Eugenio Giraldoni was the Scarpia; and Tosca was the Rumanian diva, Ericlea Darclée. These singers needed all the dramatic ability they could muster, for Tosca was shocking in the extreme, unforgettable because of its high drama, violence, and sadism. It includes a torture scene and an attempted rape, an assassination by knife, an execution by shooting and a suicide. Very strong stuff, by any standard. After some initial criticism, the opera became a box-office favorite and has remained in the repertory ever since.
The source of Puccini’s opera is Victorien Sardou’s 1887 drama La Tosca, a starring vehicle for “the Divine” Sarah Bernhardt. Her interpretation of the meaty title role was so successful that in 1889 Puccini decided to use the play for his new opera. Soon, however, he lost interest in the idea, chiefly because he was desperate to have a hit and had turned to La bohème instead. Later his interest in Tosca was rekindled, and work began. His librettists were two: Giuseppe Giacosa, one of Italy’s most respected writers; and the volatile and brilliant Luigi Illica. Puccini visited Sardou in Paris to discuss the project with him.
Although Puccini never lost faith in the story and its characters, Tosca proved to be hugely challenging. As he confided to one of his sisters, “Tosca is immensely difficult, and who knows whether I can get her off the ground.” Worse, he was plagued with his old, chronic self-doubt, which drove him to call the opera “my new hodgepodge” and “a vile opera.” In one desperate moment, he dismissed his leading character as “that Roman whore.”
He began Tosca in 1897, composing much of the score in a villa in the mountains of Tuscany. By this time, he was so famous and attracted so much attention that once when he attended Mass in the village church, the priest had to call the congregation to order, saying: “Good people, please remember that the Blessed Sacrament is on the altar, and not elsewhere.” But in this isolated place, he could work, and to great profit. He finished the opera in 1899.
The power of Tosca is owed chiefly to Puccini’s determination to cut the story to the bone. In fact, some scenes are positively suffocating, because he reduced the size of the cast and the scale of the work so he could create something “telegraphic, highly charged, and sensuous.” The three main characters are Mario Cavaradossi, a painter and a man of enormous courage. Mario’s love is Tosca, a famous singer. Her obsessive jealousy proves to be her fatal flaw, but she finds strength when she needs it and kills the villainous torturer, Baron Scarpia. One of opera’s most depraved characters, Scarpia is the sadistic police chief whom Puccini scholar William Ashbrook calls “a connoisseur of evil.”
After 1900, the enormous success of Tosca secured Puccini’s place in the theatrical hierarchy; but for all his fame, he remained Tuscan to the core, approachable and affable and in many ways as simple as a child. Even at the height of his celebrity, he lived in a fishermen’s village near Lucca. He hunted in the marshes, boated on the lake, and spent whole days with his cronies – local artists and illiterate peasants alike – in a ramshackle tavern near his house. No matter how elevated his stature as an artist, Puccini remained very much a man of his people, and that, perhaps, is his secret.
Mary Jane Phillips-Matz (1926-2013) was the author of “Verdi, A Biography” (1993) and “Puccini, A Biography” (2002). In addition, she was co-founder and executive board member of the American Institute for Verdi Studies at New York University.