Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 6:30 pm
(originally transmitted live on November 9, 2013)
Runtime: 2 hours 18 minutes, 10 minute intermission
Puccini’s enduring favorite, starring an exceptional trio of singing actors in the leading roles, features acclaimed American soprano Patricia Racette as the ultimate diva, Floria Tosca, in Luc Bondy’s production. French tenor Roberto Alagna sings Tosca’s lover, the painter Cavaradossi, and Georgian baritone George Gagnidze is the corrupt, lustful Scarpia. Italian maestro Riccardo Frizza conducts Puccini’s sweeping, dramatic tale of murder, lust, and political intrigue.
Setting: No opera is more tied to its setting than Tosca: Rome, the morning of June 17, 1800, through dawn the following day. The settings for each of the three acts—the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, Palazzo Farnese, and Castel Sant’Angelo—are familiar monuments in the city and can still be visited today. While the libretto takes some liberties with the facts, historical issues form a basis for the opera: the people of Rome are awaiting news of the Battle of Marengo in northern Italy, which will decide the fate of their symbolically powerful city.
Music: The score of Tosca is considered a prime example of the style of verismo, an elusive term usually translated as “realism.” The typical musical features of the verismo tradition are prominent in this opera: short arias with an uninhibited flood of raw melody, ambient sounds that blur the distinctions between life and art (including the extraordinary tolling of morning church bells as dawn breaks to open Act III); and the use of parlato—words spoken instead of sung—at moments of tension. The title character’s Act II aria, “Vissi d’arte,” is among the most popular solos in all of opera.
Rome, June 1800. Cesare Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner, rushes into the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. He hides in one of the chapels just before the painter Mario Cavaradossi arrives to work on his portrait of Mary Magdalene. The painting has been inspired by the Marchesa Attavanti, whom Cavaradossi has seen in the church but does not know. He is struck by the resemblance of the dark-haired beauty of his lover, the singer Floria Tosca, and that of the blonde Marchesa Attavanti. Angelotti, who was a member of the former Bonapartiste government, emerges from his hiding place. Cavaradossi recognizes him and promises help, then hurries him back into the chapel as Tosca is heard calling from outside. She jealously asks Cavaradossi whom he has been talking to and reminds him of their rendezvous that evening. Suddenly recognizing the Marchesa Attavanti in the painting, she accuses him of being unfaithful, but he assures her of his love. When Tosca has left, Angelotti again comes out of hiding. A cannon signals that the police have discovered the escape, and he and Cavaradossi flee to the painter’s house. The sacristan enters with choirboys who are preparing to sing in a Te Deum celebrating the recent victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Marengo. Their excitement is silenced by the arrival of Baron Scarpia, chief of the secret police, who is searching for Angelotti. When Tosca comes back looking for Cavaradossi, Scarpia shows her a fan with the Attavanti crest that he has just found. Seemingly finding her suspicions about her lover’s infidelity confirmed, Tosca bursts into tears. She vows vengeance and leaves as the church fills with worshippers. Scarpia sends his men to follow her to Cavaradossi, with whom he thinks Angelotti is hiding. While the congregation sings the Te Deum, Scarpia declares that he will bend Tosca to his will.
In his study at the Palazzo Farnese, Scarpia anticipates the pleasure of having Tosca in his power. The spy Spoletta arrives with news that he was unable to find Angelotti. Instead he brings in Cavaradossi. While Scarpia interrogates the defiant painter, Tosca is heard singing at a royal gala in the same building. Scarpia sends for her and she appears just as Cavaradossi is being taken away to be tortured. Frightened by Scarpia’s questions and Cavaradossi’s screams, Tosca reveals Angelotti’s hiding place. Cavaradossi is brought in, badly hurt and hardly conscious. When he realizes what has happened, he angrily confronts Tosca, just as the officer Sciarrone rushes in to announce that Napoleon in fact has won the battle, a defeat for Scarpia’s side. Cavaradossi shouts out his defiance of tyranny and is dragged off to be executed. Scarpia calmly suggests to Tosca that he would let Cavaradossi go free if she’d give herself to him. Fighting off his advances, she declares she has dedicated her life to art and love and calls on God for help. Scarpia insists, when Spoletta interrupts: faced with capture, Angelotti has killed himself. Tosca, now forced to give in or lose her lover, agrees to Scarpia’s proposition. Scarpia orders Spoletta to prepare for a mock execution of Cavaradossi, after which he is to be freed. Tosca demands that Scarpia write her a safe-conduct. When he has done so, she grabs a knife from a table and stabs him.
At dawn the next morning, Cavaradossi awaits execution at the Castel Sant’Angelo. He bribes the jailer to deliver a farewell letter to Tosca, then, overcome with emotion, gives in to his despair. Tosca appears and explains what has happened. The two imagine their future in freedom. As the execution squad arrives, Tosca implores Cavaradossi to fake his death convincingly, then hides. The soldiers fire and depart. Cavaradossi doesn’t move and Tosca realizes that Scarpia has betrayed her. Just as Spoletta rushes in to arrest her, she leaps from the battlement.