by Giacomo Puccini
, first performed in Rome on 14 January 1900 (Covent Garden 12 July 1900, New York 4 February 1901), with his usual librettist
, based on the 1887 play La Tosca
by Victorien Sardou
Floria Tosca is an opera singer, passionate and jealous, and her lover Mario Cavaradossi is a painter. The scene is Rome in 1800, as Napoleon's forces have taken over the Roman republic, and Cavaradossi's friend Angelotti is a political prisoner who escapes and seeks refuge in the church where Cavaradossi is painting Mary Magdalene, using a Marchese as his model.
Scarpia, the evil chief of police, tracks the prisoner, and meets Tosca there after the two men have left. He wants her, and seeks to persuade her that Cavaradossi was having an affair with the Marchese. In Act Two he has Cavaradossi prisoner, when news comes of Napoleon's defeat. Cavaradossi cries a joyous Vittoria!, and Scarpia orders him taken away for execution.
He then tells Tosca, alone with thim, that she can release her lover if she... cooperates. In despair she sings her greatest aria of the opera, Vissi d'arte ("I lived for art, I lived for life, I did no harm to any soul... I gave jewels to the Madonna of the mountain... Lord, why dost thou repay me like this?" - Perchè me remunerì così?).
She agrees, and Scarpia gives her a safe conduct for the two lovers. He calls a guard and tells him to arrange a fake execution... "as we did for Palmieri", he says significantly. The guard looks at him then nods in understanding: as they did for Palmieri. Alone with him again, Tosca stabs and kills him.
The greatest Tosca is undoubtedly Maria Callas: her performance of the entire second act has been preserved on film; it is tragic that more has not, but it shows off what an extraordinarily powerful actor she was. This morning I heard part of Angela Gheorghiu's new recording, confirming in my mind that she is the inheritor of Callas in great roles such as this and Violetta.
In Act Three, Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi are reunited, waiting for the mock execution and their freedom. But first while Mario is alone waiting for her, on the battlements of the Castel Sant'Angelo, he sings one of the great tenor arias, the gentle, loving, and musing E lucevan le stelle ("And the stars were shining"), recalling their earlier times together.
Then they joyously meet, she explains about the safe conduct, and he says it must be Scarpia's first benevolent act. E l'ultima!, she cries: "And the last!". She tells him what happened and how he must play his part, and he laughs that he will do it well, come La Tosca in teatro, "like Tosca in the theatre". The execution is arranged, carried out, and Cavaradossi falls. The soldiers leave. Tosca waits for him to rise, singing softly to him, what a good actor he is, still remaining there.
But he can get up now... up. Up! "Sù! Sù! Mario, Mario!" she screams. At that moment the guards, having discovered Scarpia's body, come up for her. She swears defiance and leaps off the battlements into the River Tiber.
* Thanks thbz for the correction.