Tosca is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 14 January 1900. The work, based on Victorien Sardou’s 1887 French-language dramatic play, La Tosca, is a melodramatic piece set in Rome in June 1800, with the Kingdom of Naples’s control of Rome threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. It contains depictions of torture, murder and suicide, yet also includes some of Puccini’s best-known lyrical arias, and has inspired memorable performances from many of opera’s leading singers. Musically, Tosca is structured as a through-composed work, with arias, recitative, choruses and other elements musically woven into a seamless whole. Puccini used Wagnerian leitmotifs (short musical statements) to identify characters, objects and ideas. Historical context: According to the libretto, the action of Tosca occurs in June 1800. Sardou, in his play, dates it more precisely; La Tosca takes place in the afternoon, evening, and early morning of 17 and 18 June 1800. Italy had long been divided into a number of small states, with the Pope in Rome ruling the Papal States in the area of central Italy. Following the French Revolution, a French army under Napoleon invaded Italy in 1796, entering Rome almost unopposed on 11 February 1798 and establishing a republic there. This republic was ruled by seven consuls; in the opera this is the former office of Angelotti, whose character may be based on the real-life consul Libero Angelucci. In September 1799 the French, who had protected the republic, withdrew from Rome. As they left, troops of the Kingdom of Naples occupied the city. In May 1800 Napoleon, by then the unquestioned leader of France, brought his troops across the Alps to Italy once again. On 14 June his army met the Austrian forces at the Battle of Marengo (near Alessandria). Austrian troops were initially successful; by mid-morning they were in control of the field of battle, and their commander, Michael von Melas sent this news south towards Rome. However, fresh French troops arrived in late afternoon, and Napoleon attacked the tired Austrians. As Melas retreated in disarray with the remains of his army, he sent a second courier south with the revised message. The Neapolitans abandoned Rome, and the city spent the next fourteen years under French domination.
Act 1 ▪ Scene: Inside the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome, 1800 Cesare Angelotti, former consul of the Roman Republic and now an escaped political prisoner, runs into the church and hides in the Attavanti private chapel—his sister is the Marchesa Attavanti. The painter Mario Cavaradossi arrives to continue work on his picture of Mary Magdalene. He exchanges banter with an elderly sacristan, before singing of the “hidden harmony” (“Recondita armonia”) in the contrast between the blonde beauty of his painting and that of his dark-haired lover, the singer Floria Tosca. The sacristan mumbles his disapproval before leaving. Angelotti emerges and tells Cavaradossi, an old friend who has republican sympathies, that he is being pursued by the royalist police chief Scarpia. Cavaradossi promises to assist him, before Angelotti hurriedly returns to his hiding place as Tosca arrives. After enquiring suspiciously of the painter what he has been doing, Tosca sings of her desire for a night of mutual passion: “Non la sospiri, la nostra casetta” (“Do you not long for our little house”). She then expresses jealousy over the woman in the painting whom she recognises as the Marchesa. Cavaradossi explains the likeness; he has merely observed the Marchesa at prayer in the church. He reassures Tosca of his fidelity before she leaves. Angelotti reappears, and discusses with the painter his plan to flee disguised as a woman, using clothes left in the chapel by his sister. The sound of a cannon signals that Angelotti’s escape has been discovered. As he and Cavaradossi rapidly leave the church the sacristan re-enters with groups of choristers, celebrating the news that Napoleon has apparently been defeated at Marengo. The celebrations cease abruptly with the entry of Scarpia, who is searching for Angelotti. He questions the sacristan, and his suspicions are aroused when he learns that Cavaradossi has been in the church; Scarpia mistrusts the painter, and believes him complicit in Angelotti’s escape. When Tosca arrives looking for her lover, Scarpia artfully arouses her jealous instincts by implying a relationship between the painter and the Marchesa. He draws Tosca’s attention to a woman’s fan, found in the chapel, and suggests that someone must have surprised the lovers there. Tosca falls for his deceit; enraged, she rushes off to confront Cavaradossi. Scarpia orders his agents to follow her, assuming she will lead them to Cavaradossi and Angelotti, and privately gloats as he reveals his intentions to ravish Tosca and hang Cavaradossi. A procession enters the church singing the Te Deum; finally Scarpia’s reverie is broken and he joins the chorus in the prayer.
Act 2 ▪ Scene: Scarpia’s apartment in the Palazzo Farnese, that evening Scarpia, at supper, sends a note to Tosca asking her to join him. His henchman Spoletta announces the arrest of Cavaradossi, who is brought in to be questioned about the location of Angelotti. As the painter is questioned, the voice of Tosca, singing in a celebratory cantata offstage, can be heard. Cavaradossi denies knowing anything about the escape, and, after Tosca arrives, is taken to an antechamber to be tortured. He is able to speak briefly with her, telling her to say nothing. Tosca is told by Scarpia that she can save her lover from indescribable pain if she reveals Angelotti’s hiding place. She resists, but hearing Cavaradossi’s cries, eventually yields the secret. Cavaradossi is brought back to the apartment where he recovers consciousness and, learning of Tosca’s betrayal, is initially furious with her. Then news arrives of Napoleon’s victory at Marengo; Cavaradossi gives a defiant “victory” shout before being taken away. Scarpia, left with Tosca, proposes a bargain: if she gives herself to him, Cavaradossi will be freed. She is revolted, and repeatedly rejects his advances. Outside she hears the drums which announce an execution; as Scarpia awaits her decision, she sings a fervent prayer: “Vissi d’arte” (“I lived for art, I lived for love, never did I harm a living creature … why, O Lord, why dost thou repay me thus?”). Scarpia remains adamant despite her pleas. When Spoletta brings news that Angelotti has killed himself, Scarpia announces that Cavaradossi must face a firing squad the next morning. He nevertheless tells Tosca that, if she will submit to him, he will arrange for this to be a mock execution. When Tosca, in despair, agrees, Scarpia tells his deputy Spoletta that the execution is to be simulated, both recalling that it will be “as we did with Count Palmieri”. Following Spoletta’s departure, Tosca imposes the further condition that Scarpia provide a safe-conduct out of Rome for herself and her lover. After signing this, Scarpia approaches Tosca to secure her side of the bargain. However, with a knife taken from the supper table, she stabs him to death. After cursing him and removing the safe-conduct from his pocket, she lights candles in a gesture of piety and places a crucifix on the body before leaving.
Act 3 ▪ Scene: The upper parts of the Castel Sant’Angelo, early the following morning Offstage, a shepherd boy sings (in Romanesco dialect) “Io de’ sospiri” (“I give you sighs”) as church bells sound for matins. In the castel, Cavaradossi is informed that he has one hour to live. He refuses the offer of a priest but is allowed to write a letter which he begins, but is soon overwhelmed by his memories of Tosca: “E lucevan le stelle” (“And the stars shone”). Tosca enters and shows him the safe-conduct. She reveals that she has killed Scarpia and that the imminent execution is a sham: Cavaradossi must feign death, but afterwards they can leave Rome together, before the discovery of Scarpia’s body. Cavaradossi is amazed at the courage shown by one so tender: “O dolci mani” (“Oh sweet hands pure and gentle”). They then sing of the life they will share, though Tosca is worried whether Cavaradossi can play his part in the mock execution convincingly. Cavaradossi is led away, and Tosca watches with increasing impatience as the final rituals are carried out. After a volley of shots, Cavaradossi falls, and Tosca exclaims “Ecco un artista!” (“What an actor!”). When the soldiers have all left, she hurries towards Cavaradossi, to find that he is dead; Scarpia has betrayed her. Heartbroken, she throws herself across the body. Off-stage voices indicate that Scarpia’s body has been found, and that Tosca is known to have killed him. As Spoletta and the soldiers rush in, Tosca rises, evades their clutches, and runs to the parapet. With a last cry that Scarpia will answer before God, she hurls herself over the edge. See the full Festival Programme 2012 – Arena of Verona

 

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