Tosca, Baths of Caracalla
Opera - a byword for music at its most passionate - has never been better served than by Giacomo Puccini’s early masterpiece, Tosca. Far removed from its composer’s later forays into the exotic, Tosca’s gritty realism makes it one of the most compelling works in the genre.
Rome, 1800. Cesare Angelotti, a deposed consul of the Roman Republic established under Napoleonic rule, has escaped prison. He runs into the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle where he finds the artist Mario Cavaradossi working on a portrait of Mary Magdalene, her image clearly inspired by Angelotti’s sister, the Marchesa Attavanti. Cavaradossi agrees to hide him. But his act of kindness only ignites the jealousy of his lover, Floria Tosca, suspicious that Cavaradossi might be having an affair with the Marchesa.
The chief of police, Baron Scarpia, deceives Tosca into leading him to Cavaradossi. He tortures the painter so that he will reveal the whereabouts of Angelotti. Tosca, unable to bear Cavaradossi’s screams any longer, tells Scarpia where Angelotti is.
Rather than give in to Scarpia’s henchmen, the former consul commits suicide. Cavaradossi is sentenced to death and Tosca is at Scarpia’s mercy. Disgusted by his advances, she nonetheless agrees to do whatever he demands as long as Cavaradossi is saved. Scarpia agrees to arrange for Cavaradossi’s executioners to shoot blanks rather than real bullets.
Tosca makes one further condition: safe passage for her and Cavaradossi out of the city. As Scarpia signs the order, she takes her chance and plunges a knife into his back, killing him. As Cavaradossi prepares to face the firing squad, Tosca tells him that he will only need to feign death. But Scarpia, acting from beyond the grave, still has one more trick up his sleeve.
Such a gripping story demands superb music and Puccini did not disappoint. Tosca contains some of his most celebrated melodies, including “Recondita armonia”, “Vissi d’arte” and “E lucevan le stelle”. However, Puccini’s true stroke of genius is the “Te Deum”, which closes the first act: Scarpia accompanying the Church’s choristers and distorting the innocent meaning of their words with his own blasphemous intent.
Premiered in Rome at the Teatro Costanzi on 14 January 1900, Tosca is still one of opera’s most powerful works. The Teatro dell’Opera di Roma’s interpretation at the Terme di Caracalla in the city in which Tosca’s action takes place promises to be an utterly mesmerising experience.