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TOSCA (1896 - 1900)

Land Of PucciniLibrettists, Giuseppe Giocosa, Luigi Illica
Tosca (1896 - 1900)

Background: Based on French playwright Victorien Sardou's play La Tosca , which enoyed years of success with the great actress, Sarah Bernhardt, in the title role, work only began on Puccini's Tosca after arduous negotions for the rights between Ricordi and the playwright. In fact, Ricordi originally secured the rights for another of his composers, Alberto Franchetti, and commissioned Illica to write the libretto. At the time, Illica was also working on La Bohème with Puccini, and was finding progress just as slow with Franchetti on Tosca. Neither he nor Giacosa thought the violent and sadistic story suitable for an opera, and in the end, it seems that Franchetti agreed. After months of composing the opera, he willingly gave up the rights to Puccini, who had expressed his interest in the play to Ricordi in 1889. Illica had, by this time, already completed what Puccini called 'an extraordinary libretto,' although as he had with his previous opera, Puccini was to ask Illica and Giacosa to alter and revise their work over and over again, frustrating everyone in the process. Because of the success of La Bohème and the number of new productions that were being mounted, Puccini spent much of 1897 travelling, although he stayed at Torre del Lago on and off for most of the spring, summer and autumn. He began the orchestration at the beginning of 1898, and in the spring, went to Paris for the opening of La Bohème there. When he returned to Torre, he set about looking for a summer house in the hills above Lake Massaciuccoli , and eventually he chose a large but old villa in Chiatri, a village he remembered visiting as a boy. As the summer wore on, work progressed on the villa and on the opera, even though Puccini found it terribly difficult to create such a tight piece as Tosca . The end of the year found him in Milan where, because of the terrible weather and various illnesses, work was progressing slowly and he was restless for Torre del Lago. In January 1899, Puccini went to Paris to illicit the support of Sardou, the playwright, as he wanted to soften the effects of the final scene. Sardou, who had never had much confidence in Puccini as a composer, and even less in Giacosa, wanted a grand ending. Puccini eventually won him over, and returned to Torre to continue his work. Ricordi however did not agree. He disliked Puccini's ending, finding it flat and scattered. Puccini argued that he wanted a fragmented effect in the final act, and had written it that way intentionally. Never had he and Ricordi disagreed so profoundly. Additionally, much to Ricordi's distress, he found that Puccini had inserted some of the music cut from Edgar . However, Puccini won the argument, mainly because they were so short of time, and made few further changes. Tosca premiered in Rome at Teatro Costanzi on January 14, 1900, against the backdrop of the Holy Year celebrations of 1899/1900, which the Pope had also declared a Universal Jubilee- Rome was filled to the brim with hundreds of thousands of catholic pilgrims all seeking exoneration from their sins. It was a chaotic scene, and the staff at the theatre were nervous about the possibility of an anarchist bombing. However, the only disturbance to the opening performance were the latecomers, who necessitated a second start to the opera, the curtain having already been raised before they arrived. Tosca , although it did not immediately garner wonderful critical reviews, was that night a huge public success and filled houses followed.

Synopsis: In the interior of the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, the painter Cavaradossi discovers his old friend, Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner who is now in flight and hiding from the prison guards, who are looking for him led by the evil Scarpia, Chief of Police. Cavaradossi is pledging to help his friend when Tosca arrives, jealous because she heard her lover whispering with someone, although now he is alone. The painter reassures her and Tosca departs after the two agree to meet that evening. Angelotti reappears, and Cavaradossi takes him to hide at his villa outside the city. Choristers and acolytes arrive to celebrate the Te Deum, and Scarpia enters looking for Angelotti, bringing a somber mood to the proceedings. Tosca returns looking for Cavaradossi: she has been engaged to sing that evening and cannot meet him as planned. Scarpia seizes the opportunity to play upon Tosca's jealousy, and filled with insecurities, she rushes away to Cavaradossi's villa in search of him. Scarpia sends his henchman, Spoletta, to follow her. Against the background of the Te Deum, Scarpia expresses his burning desire to possess Tosca, and make her yeild to his desires. Act II: Scarpia is having supper in his apartment at the Palace. Tosca's voice can be heard in the background, singing at the engagement she had previously made. Cavaradossi is dragged in for questioning, but he refuses to give up his friend, Angelotti. Scarpia, infuriated by the painters obstinancy, writes a note summoning Tosca. She arrives to find the painter manacled, but he begs her in a whisper not to betray Angelotti. Cavaradossi is taken to the next room, leaving Tosca and Scarpia alone. As he is tortured, Tosca is unable to withstand any of her lover's cries of agony and reveals Angelotti's whereabouts. Cavaradossi is brought back and scolds Tosca bitterly; but Scarpia has the two of them just where he wants them, and begins to put into practice his diabolical plan to have Tosca at any cost. He orders Cavaradossi be taken and imprisoned at Castel Sant'Angelo, where he is to be shot at dawn. Tosca entreats Scarpia to show mercy; Spoletta enters with news that rather than be recaptured, Angelotti has taken his own life. Scarpia offers Tosca a despicable deal: he will trade Cavaradossi's life for a night of passion with her. When Tosca agrees, Scarpia tells her that there will be a mock execution at dawn, after which she and her lover can flee together. He writes her a passage of safe conduct, and as he begins to make her odious advances towards her, Tosca plunges a knife into him, snatched from Scarpia's own supper table. Act III: Dawn, on a parapet of Castel Sant'Angelo. Cavaradossi is brought up from his cell in preparation for his execution. Tosca arrives and explains that the firing squad will be using blanks, and that she has put an end to Scarpia's evil ways forever. They dream of their future happiness together, the executioners file in, and the execution takes place. When everyone has gone, Tosca calls to her lover to rise. He is still. To Tosca's horror and disbelief, when she pulls back the cloth that had been placed over his body, she discovers that Scarpia has cheated her after all, and her lover is dead. Spoletta rushes in to arrest Tosca, having found Scarpia's murdered body, but Tosca has other ideas: she hurls herself over the parapet to her death.

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