Tosca

At a glance

  • Composer: Giacomo Puccini
  • Librettists: Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
  • Genre: Melodrama
  • Language: Italian
  • Premiered: 14 January, 1900

Naxos »

Synopsis

The painter Mario Cavaradossi arrives at the church Sant’Andrea della Valle to continue work on his picture of Mary Magdalene. The Sacristan identifies a likeness between the portrait and a blonde-haired woman who had been frequently praying in the chapel. Cavaradossi describes the “hidden harmony” in the contrast between the blonde beauty of his painting and his dark-haired lover, the singer Floria Tosca. As Cavaradossi begins to work, his friend Cesare Angelotti emerges from hiding and explains that he had escaped from Castel Sant’Angelo and is being pursued by the Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia. When Tosca’s voice is heard, Cavaradossi urges Angelotti to return to his hiding place and gives Angelotti his basket of food, promising to help him after night falls.

Tosca enters and suspiciously asks Cavaradossi if he has been talking to another woman. Cavaradossi reassures her of his fidelity and promises to take her to his cottage that evening, after her performance. After Tosca has left, Angelotti reappears and the two friends come up with a plan: Angelotti would flee, disguised as a woman, using clothes left in the chapel by his sister (the blonde beauty from Cavaradossi’s painting) and hide in an unused well in the garden of Cavaradossi’s cottage. The sound of a cannon signals that Angelotti’s escape has been discovered and the two hasten out of the church.

The church fills with people celebrating a supposed victory over Napoleon. Baron Scarpia and his henchmen arrive, having heard that Angelotti has sought refuge in the church. A thorough search is performed and the empty basket of food along with a fan bearing the Attavanti coat of arms are found in the chapel. Scarpia questions the Sacristan, and his suspicions are aroused further when he learns that Cavaradossi had been in the church. When Tosca arrives looking for her lover, Scarpia intentionally arouses her jealousy by drawing her attention to the fan, implying the painter’s infidelity. Tosca, enraged, rushes off to confront Cavaradossi. Scarpia orders his men to follow her, assuming she will lead them to Angelotti. He privately gloats as he reveals his intentions to claim Tosca for himself and execute Cavaradossi.

Tosca returns from her performance to find that Cavaradossi has been arrested. He is tortured in the next room to elicit information from her. She reluctantly betrays Angelotti’s hiding place. Scarpia sentences Cavaradossi to be shot at dawn and tells Tosca that she must give in to Scarpia’s demands to save her lover. She pretends to agree and insists that Scarpia sign a safe-conduct out of Rome for her and Cavaradossi. When Scarpia hands her the paper, she kills him.

The guards lead Cavaradossi in and inform him that he has one hour to live. He declines to see a priest but asks permission to write a letter to Tosca. He begins to write, but is soon overwhelmed by memories. Tosca is brought in and, left alone with Cavaradossi, shows him the safe-conduct pass she’s obtained, adding that she has killed Scarpia and that the imminent execution is a sham. Cavaradossi must feign death, after which they can flee together before Scarpia’s body is discovered. Cavaradossi is led away and Tosca watches with increasing anxiety as the execution is prepared. Shots are fired and Cavaradossi falls. When the soldiers have left, she hurries towards the body, only to realise that the treacherous Scarpia had betrayed her: Cavaradossi really is dead. Heartbroken, she clasps her lover’s lifeless body and weeps. Scarpia’s men rush in, having discovered his corpse, and Tosca leaps from the battlements to her own death to escape their clutches.

Highlights

“Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore”

English: “I lived for art, I lived for love”

“E lucevan le stelle”

English: “And the stars shone”

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