Tosca Opera Lausanne Critique Essay

Synopsis

Act I - Running Time: 45 mins

We begin in Sant'Andrea della Valle, a large church in Rome. Angelotti comes pelting in, he has just escaped from prison, and hides in a small, private chapel within the church. Our hero for the evening, Cavaradossi enters to resume his work. He is a painter and has been commissioned to paint a picture of Mary Magdalene for the church. The scristan bumbles about and offers Cavaradossi some food, which he refuses. Cavaradossi gets his first big aria of the evening, “Recondita Armonia”.

Angelotti bursts out, revealing himself to Cavaradossi. They are old friends but as Cavaradossi is on the brink of assisting Angelotti, who should show up but Tosca herself. Cavaradossi quickly gives Angelotti his food and hides him away again.

The jealous Tosca is convinced she overheard Cavaradossi talking to someone, believing it to be another woman. She sees Cavaradossi's new painting, recognizing the image as that of Marchesa Attavanti and turns jealous again. Cavaradossi calms her down with “Qual’occhio al mondo”, what eyes in the world could compare to hers!

She leaves, still demanding that he change the eyes, and Angelotti reappears. Cavaradossi shows him a secret way out and gives him a key to his villa, informing him of a hiding place in the well of the garden. Cannon fire is heard, announcing the escape of a prisoner (Angelotti), Angelotti quickly flees.

Scarpia (Falk Struckmann), Metropolitan Opera

The sacristan returns with the church choristers, celebrating the news that Napoleon has been defeated. However things quickly turn sour as Scarpia arrives with his lackeys. They believe Angelotti is hiding in the church and searching the place find the empty food basket and a fan belonging to Attavanti. Scarpia interrogates the sacristan and learning Cavaradossi has been here, becomes convinced that he is on the right track.

Tosca comes back looking for Cavaradossi. Scarpia connives to make her jealous by showing her the Attavanti fan. He succeeds and Tosca leaves to confront Cavaradossi unaware that she is to be followed by Scarpia’s men. A truly epic scene of gloating is delivered by Scarpia culminating in the magnificent, “Te Deum”.

Act II - Running Time: 40 mins

It is later the same day and the curtain rises on Scarpia’s apartment. He has been unable to find Angelotti but has arrested Cavaradossi and sent a note for Tosca to come to his apartment. Cavaradossi is dragged in and interrogated. He reveals nothing and as Tosca arrives he is taken away to be tortured. In his parting words he tells Tosca to tell Scarpia nothing, no matter his suffering.

Cavaradossi Sings his joy, Sarasota Opera

Tosca initially resists Scarpia but after hearing Cavaradossi’s screams of pain she crumbles and reveals the location of Angelotti. Cavaradossi is dragged back in and upon hearing that Tosca has broken, he is absolutely devastated. Sciaronne arrives with the news that Napoleon has been victorious at Marengo. This is extremely good news for Cavaradossi and he unleashes “Vittoria, vittoria” in celebration, before being dragged off to be executed.

"Vittoria, vittoria" sung by Luciano Pavarotti

Left alone with Tosca, Scarpia presents her with a hideous bargain. If she will give herself to him, Cavaradossi will be released. She rejects his advances and sings one of the most famous tunes in the opera, “Vissi d’arte” - I lived for art.

Spoletta enters with the news that Angelotti was found but killed himself before he could be arrested. Furthermore, the execution of Cavaradossi has been arranged. Hearing all this, the now broken Tosca agrees to Scarpia’s deal. Scarpia tells Spoletta to complete the execution in the same manner as the execution of Count Palmieri.

Tosca presses Scarpia to also grant her and Cavaradossi safe passage from Rome the next day. He agrees and while writing out the letter... Tosca finds a knife on the dinner table. As Scarpia moves to rape her, she stabs him to death.

Tosca takes the letter from him, lights candles and places a crusifix on him as a gesture of piety before fleeing the scene.

Act III - Running Time: 30 mins

The battlement of the Castel Sant’Angelo early the next morning. A young boy is heard singing as the bells chime for matins. Cavaradossi is led in and informed this will be his final hour, he has no interest in seeing a priest but asks for some paper to write a letter to Tosca. He sings “E lucevan le stelle” - and the stars shone.

Tosca arrives and quickly explains everything. The execution will be faked, the firing squad will use blanks so Cavaradossi must pretend to die. They joyously sing of the life they can now have together.

Cavaradossi is led away to be shot. The marksmen fire, Cavaradossi falls to the ground. The marksmen depart as Tosca runs over to Cavaradossi. Surprise, surprise! She finds him dead, Scarpia had tricked her all along. Spoletta is heard off stage with soldiers, Scarpia’s body has been found!

Tosca runs to the parapet and crying “O Scarpia, Avanti a Dio!” - Oh Scarpia, we meet before God! She flings herself over the edge.

History

Puccini's Tosca had the longest gestation period of any of his operas. Victorien Sardou's drama La Tosca was first suggested as a possible subject in 1889, but Puccini wrote and premiered two other operas (Manon Lescaut and La Boheme) before settling his energies on Tosca, which finally premiered in January 1900. The opera likely would never have been written, at least not by Puccini, if it weren't for the esteem of a respected elder and the jealousy inspired by a contemporary.

Sardou and Puccini

In 1894, Alberto Franchetti was already working on an opera based on Sardou's play and his libretto was being written by Luigi Illica, who was also working on Puccini's La Boheme at the time. One day in Paris while Sardou was meeting with Illica to discuss what he had written so far, Giuseppe Verdi - the most successful operatic composer in the world - stopped in. Verdi, who appreciated Sardou's work but in his 80s was too old to take on a new project, was deeply moved by what Illica had written. Once Puccini heard about this meeting, he had to have the opera so Illica and another mutual friend went to Franchetti and basically sandbagged him into giving up the opera.

The premiere took place in Rome at the Teatro Costanzi. Despite rumors of a possible bomb threat because of the current political unrest, it went off without incident. It was well received by the public although less so by the critics.

Fun Facts

Popular?

Tosca has been wildly popular since it's premiere and was the 5th most performed opera from 2007 to 2012 according Operabase.

Exit with...

The instruction "exit with the principals" doesn't fully work in the case of Tosca. In older times when opera productions were sometimes only minimally rehearsed, a director might have said such a thing to the supernumeries. The, no doubt apocryphal, story goes that the soldiers in the final Act of Tosca were given just this instruction and as Tosca leapt over the battlements -- they all went over with her!

Another popular myth relating to Tosca's suicide, and this seems a more likely tale, is the placement of a trampoline rather than a mattress for extra safety for the falling Soprano. The audience as a result got not only Tosca's initial fall but also a series of successive appearances and disappearances behind the battlements...

Well-made?

Victorien Sardou

La Tosca by Sardou is a “well-made play”. This term isn’t a mark of quality but a specific form of theatre that conforms to certain criteria. An artificial, mechanical method of playwrighting that required a slow suspenseful build up to a climactic scene when all the plot threads become resolved. The plot usually hinged on props rather than people, letters a popular option. If this all sounds a bit ridiculous then consider that Sardou was by no means the only one writing these, it was the dominant form for much of the 20th Century, though constantly scorned and Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov amongst many others were highly influenced by it. Wilkie Collins summed it up as, “Make ’em laugh, make ’em weep, make ’em wait.” which didn’t stop him using many aspects of the well-made play in his own work.

Live

Sardou specified that his story took place from 17 June 1800 to dawn the following morning, and while Puccini's libretto just states June 1800, he intended the same specificity. Because of that detail and the fact that each act takes place in a single location in Rome, and those locations still exist, it was perhaps inevitable that someone would try to film the opera at the correct times and places. This actually occurred in 1992 with Catherine Maliftano in the title role.

Another version of less interest, but deserving of mention maybe just because of its cast, is the 2001 Tosca directed by the French filmmaker Benoit Jacquot. Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna star as Tosca and Cavaradossi, but while the film presents the opera in a linear fashion, it does so using video of a studio session interspersed with performance footage from a soundstage and handheld video shots from Rome. Overall the actual opera loses much of its visual power.

Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt as Tosca

Puccini saw the legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt play Floria Tosca in Sardou’s drama La Tosca twice. The first time in 1890 at Milan’s Teatro dei Filodrammatici and the second in 1895 in Florence. Despite speaking no French, he was enamoured of the performance (although less so the second time, according to biographers). The play was written as a showcase for Bernhardt and it was she who initially wore the silk dress and plumed hat and carried a cane and bouquet of flowers that have become standard fare for second act Toscas on their way to the cathedral.


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