Event: Puccini’s Tosca
Date: January 27, 2018, 12:55 pm
Run Time: 2 hours 53 minutes
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for Toscaper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for Toscaper student • $11.00 online


Rome, June 1800. Cesare Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner, rushes into the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. He hides in one of the chapels just before the painter Mario Cavaradossi arrives to work on his portrait of Mary Magdalene. The painting has been inspired by the Marchesa Attavanti, whom Cavaradossi has seen in the church but does not know. He is struck by the resemblance of the dark-haired beauty of his lover, the singer Floria Tosca, and that of the blonde Marchesa Attavanti. Angelotti, who was a member of the former Bonapartiste government, emerges from his hiding place. Cavaradossi recognizes him and promises help, then hurries him back into the chapel as Tosca is heard calling from outside. She jealously asks Cavaradossi whom he has been talking to and reminds him of their rendezvous that evening. Suddenly recognizing the Marchesa Attavanti in the painting, she accuses him of being unfaithful, but he assures her of his love. When Tosca has left, Angelotti again comes out of hiding. A cannon signals that the police have discovered the escape, and he and Cavaradossi flee to the painter’s house. The sacristan enters with choirboys who are preparing to sing in a Te Deum celebrating the recent victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Marengo. Their excitement is silenced by the arrival of Baron Scarpia, chief of the secret police, who is searching for Angelotti. When Tosca comes back looking for Cavaradossi, Scarpia shows her a fan with the Attavanti crest that he has just found. Seemingly finding her suspicions about her lover’s infidelity confirmed, Tosca bursts into tears. She vows vengeance and leaves as the church fills with worshippers. Scarpia sends his men to follow her to Cavaradossi, with whom he thinks Angelotti is hiding. While the congregation sings the Te Deum, Scarpia declares that he will bend Tosca to his will.

In his study at the Palazzo Farnese, Scarpia anticipates the pleasure of having Tosca in his power. The spy Spoletta arrives with news that he was unable to find Angelotti. Instead he brings in Cavaradossi. While Scarpia interrogates the defiant painter, Tosca is heard singing at a royal gala in the same building. Scarpia sends for her and she appears just as Cavaradossi is being taken away to be tortured. Frightened by Scarpia’s questions and Cavaradossi’s screams, Tosca reveals Angelotti’s hiding place. Cavaradossi is brought in, badly hurt and hardly conscious. When he realizes what has happened, he angrily confronts Tosca, just as the officer Sciarrone rushes in to announce that Napoleon in fact has won the battle, a defeat for Scarpia’s side. Cavaradossi shouts out his defiance of tyranny and is dragged off to be executed. Scarpia calmly suggests to Tosca that he would let Cavaradossi go free if she’d give herself to him. Fighting off his advances, she declares she has dedicated her life to art and love and calls on God for help. Scarpia insists, when Spoletta interrupts: faced with capture, Angelotti has killed himself. Tosca, now forced to give in or lose her lover, agrees to Scarpia’s proposition. Scarpia orders Spoletta to prepare for a mock execution of Cavaradossi, after which he is to be freed. Tosca demands that Scarpia write her a safe-conduct. When he has done so, she grabs a knife from a table and stabs him.

At dawn the next morning, Cavaradossi awaits execution at the Castel Sant’Angelo. He bribes the jailer to deliver a farewell letter to Tosca, then, overcome with emotion, gives in to his despair. Tosca appears and explains what has happened. The two imagine their future in freedom. As the execution squad arrives, Tosca implores Cavaradossi to fake his death convincingly, then hides. The soldiers fire and depart. Cavaradossi doesn’t move and Tosca realizes that Scarpia has betrayed her. Just as Spoletta rushes in to arrest her, she leaps from the battlement.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

“That shabby little shocker” is critic Joseph Kerman’s famous dismissal of Puccini’s Tosca. Shocking it is, certainly.  But audiences don’t seem to mind.

Victorien Sardou’s play La Tosca (1887) took Paris by storm, partly because of Sarah Bernhardt’s virtuoso performance in the title role. Sardou was the Alfred Hitchcock of the Parisian stage, a wizard of suspense. Puccini saw the play’s operatic potential; he was riveted even though he didn’t understand French very well (that’s also how he latched onto David Belasco’s English-language Madame Butterfly and The Girl of the Golden West). But it was years before he got around to setting it. Meanwhile, the elderly Verdi had expressed interest, as did Puccini’s contemporary Alberto Franchetti. The publisher Ricordi, a master of manipulation, played the two off against each other and finally tricked Franchetti out of the project to allow Puccini a free hand. Sardou, initially resistant, agreed to grant the rights (and ultimately declared the opera superior to the play). At Puccini’s insistence his regular librettists, Illica and Giacoso, chopped the story to the bone to speed up the action. The whole of Tosca is shorter than a single act of most Wagner operas, and whips along at a frenzied pace.

Puccini finished Tosca in 1899. The premiere was given in 1900 — not at the pre-eminent Italian house, Milan’s La Scala, but in Rome, because the opera is set in that city in precise locations which would be familiar to the audience. It was not immediately an overwhelming success, but has since become one of Puccini’s most popular works, up there with Butterfly and Boheme. The music is “in your face,” often loud and almost brutal, distinguished by Puccini’s reliable melodic invention and brilliant orchestration.  We are granted some low comedy from the Sacristan in Act I before events turn dire. We get only a few moments of repose, notably the prelude to Act III with its folksy Shepherd’s song, and especially Tosca’s aria “Vissi d’arte.” Planted dead center in Act II, it was a last minute addition designed to provide dramatic relief, and has since become the opera’s biggest hit tune. 

Finally, Tosca is about three people: the painter Cavaradossi, idealistic and naive; the police chief Scarpia, sadistic and lecherous; and the singer Floria Tosca, based on an actual historical figure. She’s both seductive and virginal, the painter’s mistress though devoutly religious. She flares easily into jealousy. When her Romantic vision of the world is shattered by the nasty realities of lust, violence, and betrayal, she becomes a tigress. Tosca is Puccini’s most exciting heroine.