Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
April 4, 6, 10, 12, 2013, at 8 pm
Matinée April 14 at 2:30 pm
In Italian with English surtitles
Above: Scenes from POV's production of Tosca. With Joni Henson as Tosca, Luc Robert as Cavaradossi, David John Pike as Scarpia, Alexandre Sylvestre as Angelotti, Bruce Kelly as Sacristan, Michel Corbeil as Spoletta, Stephen Barradell as Sciarrone. Directed by Amiel Gladstone, Production Designer Christina Poddubiuk. With the Victoria Symphony, the Pacific Opera Victoria Chorus and the Victoria Children's Choir. Conducted by Giuseppe Pietraroia.
Above: Director Amiel Gladstone and leading lady Joni Henson chat with Conductor Joey Pietraroia about POV's production of Tosca and the great city of Rome in which the opera is set.
My dream of love has vanished forever . . . I die in despair!
And never before have I loved life so much!
Puccini's iconic tale of tyranny and love has electrified audiences since its première in 1900. It has all the ingredients for spectacular opera – lust, jealousy, murder, suicide, an explosive love triangle, breathtaking plot twists, and an emotional steamroller of a score.
Politics, art, and terror collide as the glamorous opera singer Tosca – as beautiful, coquettish, and fiery as any diva must be – fights to save her lover, the idealistic painter Cavaradossi, from that darkest of villains, the sadistic police chief Scarpia, who has offered her a deadly bargain – her love in exchange for Cavaradossi's life.
Puccini's glorious melodies, lush orchestral colours, and lyrical, heart-breaking arias ignite the ultimate theatrical experience. A taut melodrama, a shocking political thriller and a passionate love story, Tosca is raw, ravishing, and supremely operatic!
Tosca, Melodrama in three acts by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, (after the play La Tosca by Victorien Sardou)
ACT ONE: Rome. The church of Sant'Andrea della Valle. The Attavanti Chapel is on the right. To the left, a scaffolding, a dais, and easel supporting a large picture covered by a cloth. Beside the easel are various painter's materials and a basket of food.
Cesare Angelotti, a political prisoner who has just escaped from the prison at the Castel Sant'Angelo, enters the empty church. Catching sight of a pillar-shrine containing an image of the Virgin, he quickly begins to search beneath the feet of the image, finally locating a key that will open the gates of the Attavanti Chapel (his sister is the Marchesa Attavanti).
After Angelotti has vanished into the chapel, carefully closing the gates behind him, an old Sacristan shuffles in, mumbling to himself. The Sacristan kneels to pray as the Angelus rings; a few moments later Mario Cavaradossi enters the church to continue work on his portrait of Mary Magdalene. The unveiled canvas reveals a blonde, blue-eyed face – inspired by that of the Marchesa Attavanti, whom the painter has seen but does not know. Taking out of his pocket a miniature of his beloved Floria Tosca, he compares her dark-hued beauty with that of the fair Mary Magdalene; in a phrase leading to a high B flat, he leaves us in no doubt that his only thoughts are with Tosca. The disapproving Sacristan mumbles a great deal throughout Cavaradossi's aria, and leaves the stage after observing that the basket of food has not been touched.
Angelotti, thinking the church is empty, emerges from his hiding place. Seeing the painter, he exclaims, Cavaradossi! Don't you recognize me? Has prison changed me so much? Cavaradossi addresses him as Consul of the short-lived Roman Republic! This is the first indication of the identity of Angelotti and is very helpful if we are to understand the political background of the story. The conversation between the two men is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Tosca. Angelotti retreats into the chapel, taking the basket of food with him.
Cavaradossi has described Tosca as a very jealous woman, and as she enters the church it is apparent that her worst suspicions have been aroused: she wants to know why the church was shut and whose skirts she heard rustling from outside the door. Mario has answers to all these questions, though they don't entirely convince Tosca, especially when she sees the beautiful blonde face her lover has been painting. Cavaradossi swears that no eyes in the world are so beautiful as hers and the lovers reconcile in a surging, passionate love duet.
After Tosca has left the church, Cavaradossi takes a key to his villa and gives it to Angelotti, assuring the fugitive that he will be quite safe hiding there. His instructions are interrupted by the sound of a cannon shot signaling that Angelotti's escape has been discovered. Now that the situation is even more fraught, Cavaradossi decides to see his friend to safety, and the two men leave the church together.
Immediately the Sacristan enters, followed by a noisy crowd of acolytes and choristers who are excited at the prospect of a double fee for singing a Te Deum and a Gloria in honor of victory over Napoleon. At the height of their raucous celebration, Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police, enters the church unexpectedly. Order is immediately restored and, at the sight of Scarpia and his henchmen, the crowd slinks quietly away, leaving only the Sacristan to be interrogated as police agents scour the church for evidence of their escaped political prisoner. A woman's fan bearing the Attavanti family's coat of arms is discovered, as is the portrait of the Marchesa Attavanti. When the Sacristan divulges the identity of the painter, Cavaradossi immediately becomes a suspect.
At this point Tosca enters the church again, calling for Mario. Scarpia shrewdly takes advantage of the painter's disappearance to show Tosca the fan he's discovered – with the Attavanti arms on it. As the Chief of Police expects, this arouses Tosca's jealousy. With a final and violent oath addressed to the picture – You shall not have him tonight! – Tosca leaves the church, determined to catch her lover in the arms of another woman. Scarpia summons his head agent, Spoletta, instructing him to take three agents and a carriage and follow Tosca wherever she goes.
Distant bells begin to toll, and the congregation, which is rapidly growing, prepares for the arrival of the Cardinal. The dramatic and musical action is now almost purely religious; only Scarpia remains aloof from the pageant, reflecting on the beauty of Tosca and his plan to possess her and send her lover to his death.
ACT TWO: Scarpia's apartment on the top floor of the Palazzo Farnese, overlooking the courtyard.
Scarpia, alone and seated at supper, reflects on the success – so far – of his plan to win Tosca and see Cavaradossi and Angelotti hanged at dawn. Elsewhere in the palace a gala entertainment is about to take place, featuring the celebrated singer Floria Tosca. Scarpia summons Sciarrone, one of his gendarmes, and instructs him to take a note to Tosca as soon as she arrives. Sciarrone returns with Spoletta, who has followed Tosca as ordered: the chase led him to Cavaradossi's villa where he found no signs of Angelotti, but as Cavaradossi's manner seemed very suspicious, Spoletta had him arrested and brought to the Palazzo Farnese.
Cavaradossi is brought into the room for interrogation as, through the open window, a cantata is heard with Tosca singing the solo part. Scarpia cross-examines Cavaradossi, but the painter steadfastly denies all knowledge of Angelotti's whereabouts. The sound of the cantata ceases abruptly when Scarpia, irritated by the music, closes the window violently. Tosca now enters, surprised to find Cavaradossi, who whispers a warning not to answer any of Scarpia's questions. Sciarrone now opens the door of the torture chamber and Roberti, the executioner, is instructed to begin with the usual pressure. Tosca and Scarpia are left alone in the apartment.
With characteristic smoothness the Chief of Police begins to question Tosca. Only with Scarpia's sinister insistence that the truth will spare Cavaradossi a most unpleasant hour does it dawn on Tosca that her lover is being tortured in the next room. Throughout the scene the contrast between Scarpia's physical torture of Cavaradossi and his equally effective emotional torture of Tosca is increasingly heightened and intensified. Scarpia orders the doors of the torture chamber to be opened so that the cries of his victim can be heard. Tosca pleads with Mario to let her speak, and despite his violent refusal, she ultimately breaks down and reveals where Angelotti is hidden at Cavaradossi's villa.
The painter is carried in from the torture chamber; Tosca embraces him, promising that she has not revealed any secrets. But Cavaradossi hears Scarpia saying pointedly and clearly to Spoletta: In the well in the garden – Go! and realizes he has been betrayed. Immediately Sciarrone enters with the dramatic news that General Melas has been defeated in battle by Napoleon, prompting Cavaradossi to rise to his feet in triumph, crying Vittoria! His triumph is short-lived, however, and Scarpia orders him to be led away to execution. Once more Scarpia and Tosca are alone together, and the Chief of Police returns to his table to resume his poor, interrupted supper.
Tosca's only concern is to save Mario, and Scarpia names his price: he must possess Tosca completely. Tosca has little time to consider this ultimatum: the sudden and dramatic sound of drums signals that Mario is being led to the scaffold. As the drumbeats recede into the distance Scarpia watches Tosca intently and silently as she delivers her famous soliloquy, Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore (I have lived by art and love) an appeal not to Scarpia but to God for mercy. As musician and journalist Spike Hughes observed, this is the first moment in Tosca where the heroine really has our sympathy. Up to now she has been a rather stupid and jealous opera singer; in Vissi d'arte she becomes a woman whose suffering can move us.
As Scarpia prepares to renew his attack on Tosca, the news is brought to him that Angelotti has committed suicide. Everything is ready for the execution of Cavaradossi, however.
At this moment Scarpia turns to Tosca, who nods her consent. In order to convince her that her lover will be reprieved, Scarpia gives the order to Spoletta: Cavaradossi will be shot rather than hanged, so that a mock execution with fake bullets can be staged – in the manner of Palmieri, he adds significantly. Scarpia further agrees to give Tosca a safe-conduct pass so that she and her lover can leave the country safely and without hindrance.
As Scarpia sits down to deal with the necessary paperwork, Tosca catches sight of a sharp-pointed knife on the table. While the Chief of Police is distracted, she takes it and hides it behind her dress. Scarpia fixes his seal on the safe-conduct pass and goes to embrace Tosca. As he opens his arms she stabs him in the chest, delivering one of the most famous lines in Italian opera: This is the kiss of Tosca! Only when she is sure he is dead does Tosca declare: Now I forgive him. Taking the safe-conduct pass from the dead Scarpia's hand, Tosca reflects, in another well-known line: And before him, all Rome trembled. Before leaving the apartment, Tosca reverently places two lighted candles on either side of the dead man's head, and a crucifix on his breast.
ACT THREE: The platform of the Castel Sant'Angelo. There is a casement – i.e., an armoured structure from which guns are fired – on the left, also a table, bench and stool. On the table are a lantern, a large register book and writing materials. Hung on one of the walls is a crucifix with a votive lamp in front of it. On the right, the opening to a small staircase leading up to the platform. The Vatican and St. Peter's are visible in the distance.
As dawn breaks over the roof of the Castel Sant'Angelo, the voice of a shepherd boy is heard in the distance, accompanied by tolling church bells. The scene is set by the entrance of the jailer, who exchanges a few words with a sentry guarding the platform and then awaits the escorted arrival of the prisoner.
The entrance of Cavaradossi is accompanied by a tune in the orchestra which anticipates his famous aria, E lucevan le stelle. Cavaradossi is told by the jailer that he has an hour to wait until his execution, and that a priest is available if required. Cavaradossi refuses the services of the priest and instead bribes the jailer with a ring – his last possession – to convey a farewell note to his beloved Tosca. While writing it, he is overwhelmed with memories of their days together and, putting down his pen, reflects on the woman and the life he has loved so much and which he is now about to lose forever. To quote Spike Hughes again: 'E lucevan le stelle' succeeds, as 'Vissi d'arte' succeeds, because it has a quality of genuine pathos which is particularly strong when it is heard in its dramatic context. No man with only an hour to live can fail to capture some of our sympathy, if only because we automatically put ourselves in his position. In the case of Cavaradossi, Puccini makes us experience the condemned man's thoughts so vividly that his agony becomes our agony and we are deeply moved by his desperately sad reflections.
As Cavaradossi ends his aria in tears and buries his face in his hands, the tempo quickens and Tosca enters, escorted by Spoletta. Incredulous, Mario reads the safe-conduct document and remarks that this must have been Scarpia's first gracious act. It was his last, answers Tosca, who then tells her lover how she killed Scarpia. The story is told with great speed and efficiency, as we in the audience have, of course, already seen it.
Cavaradossi agrees to go along with the escape plan – directors and tenors regularly discuss the probability that he has seen through it immediately and is going through the motions to allow Tosca a few moments of joyous optimism. Tosca instructs Mario about the mechanics of this mock execution – When the soldiers fire, you must fall down, and when they have gone – we are saved and free! – and about how to play his role – Like Tosca on the stage, he remarks with a smile.
The firing party enters to the accompaniment of a sinister funeral-march theme, and Spoletta gives the necessary instructions. As the volley of shots is fired, Cavaradossi falls to the ground so convincingly that Tosca exclaims, What an artist!! As the funeral music dies away, the jailer, Spoletta, and the sentry exit, leaving Tosca and Mario alone. Tosca rushes to Mario telling him that everything is now safe; when he does not reply she realizes that he really is dead. This is what Scarpia had meant by an execution in the manner of Palmieri.
By now it is even too late for Tosca herself to escape: Scarpia's murder has been discovered. As Spoletta charges towards her, Tosca rushes to the parapet and after shouting Oh Scarpia, before God! she hurls herself over the ledge to her death. The last melody we hear is that of Cavaradossi's E lucevan le stelle.
NOTE: The descriptions of the mise-en-scène that precede each act are taken from the original libretto and are not intended to describe the details of Pacific Opera Victoria's – or indeed any company's – set design.
Libretto of the Opera in English and Italian
San Diego OperaTalk! with Nick Reveles: Enjoy an introduction to Puccini's shabby little shocker as Nick Reveles talks about Tosca.
Wikipedia article on La Tosca, the play by Victorian Sardou that inspired Puccini's opera
La Tosca, the play by Victorien Sardou, translated by Deborah Burton. Each act is in a separate pdf file; the linkes are at the bottom right of the web page.
Overview of Tosca by San Diego Opera, including a synopsis of Sardou's play and of the opera, discussion of the music, the historic Battle of Marengo, and the sites in Rome where the opera takes place.
The Jinx-iness of Tosca: Opera's Favorite Mishaps-Magnet: With stabbing, shooting, and a final suicidal leap off the battlements of the Castel Sant' Angelo, staging Tosca is a prescription for operatic mishaps. Here are a few stories of operatic accidents associated with productions of Tosca.
On the Trail of Tosca in Rome: The buildings mentioned in Tosca can still be seen in Rome today. Here are photos and descriptions of the action of the opera that takes place in each setting.
Wikipedia article on the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, the setting for Act 1 of Tosca.
Pictures of the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, the setting for Act 1.
Wikipedia article on the Palazzo Farnese, the setting for Act 2. In the opera it is Scarpia's home. Today it is the French Embassy.
Article on Castel St. Angelo, the setting for Act 3. Click on the small pictures for 360 degree panoramic views (Run them at full screen for that you-are-there feeling!)
Pictures of Castel St. Angelo, the setting for Act 3
University of Victoria Resources
Discovering Tosca and Puccini: Resources at the University of Victoria Library
If you would like to view the score of Tosca, hear a recording or read more about the opera or about the life of Puccini, then the University of Victoria Library has the resources you need. The library's extensive score collection has both the full score and the vocal score, along with recordings of Tosca, including performances with Leontyne Price, Maria Callas, and Kiri Te Kanawa. The library also has a copy of the libretto to Tosca and a book about the opera itself.
Selected books about Puccini and his music include:
For a good short and concise article about Puccini, check the Grove Dictionary of Music which is located in the Music Reference Area. It is also available online but this version can only be used in the library.
For more information on any of these resources or on anything music related please come by the library or ask the music librarian, Bill Blair at or 250-472-5025.