“La Tosca” an opera in three acts, with score by Giacomo Puccini and text by Illica and Giacosa after Sardou’s drama, was produced at the Constani Theatre, Rome, in January, 1900.
Floria Tosca, a celebrated songstress. Mario Cavaradossi, a painter. Baron Scarpia, chief of the police. Cesare Angelotti. A sacristan. Spoletta, a police agent. Sciarrone, a gendarme. A jailor. A shepherd-boy. Executive, scribe, judge, cardinal, officer, sergeant, soldiers, police-agents, ladies, nobles, citizens, artisans. Scene, Rome, June, 1800.
Cesare Angelotti, a political prisoner, escapes in the garb of incarceration and takes refuge in the chapel of the church of Sant’ Andrea alla Valle, where his sister has concealed for him woman’s apparel in which he may disguise himself. The artist, Mario Cavaradossi, is at work in the church and the refugee, recognizing him as an old friend, makes himself known, delighted at the thought of finding succor. While they are conferring, Floria Tosca, the painter’s mistress, calls from without and Angelotti is hastily concealed but not before Mario has managed to get into the ands of the famished man his luncheon basket, filled with food and wine.
Floria proves to be what her lover has called her, the most jealous of women. Her ears have caught the sound of a whisper in the church. Her fancy has supplied the swish of skirts. When she tells Mario that she will meet him at the stage door that night after her song and paints in anticipation the beauty of the moonlit Italian night, he responds to her rhapsodies absently, for his thoughts are with his friend in his peril. She is hurt and petulant when he dismisses her on the pretext that he must be at his work, and when, as she is leaving, she perceives that the magdalen on the easel is in reality a portrait of a beautiful, blue-eyed woman (Angelotti’s sister, who comes frequently to the chapel to pray), she is consumed with unhappiness, until Mario succeeds in convincing her that her own dark eyes are the most lustrous in the world.
As soon as she has gone, Mario lets Angelotti out of the chapel and the condemned man is about to venture forth when the cannon of the fortress is heard, the signal that his escape is discovered. Mario nobly resolves to go with his friend and fight for him if need be. As the doors of the church close behind them, a crowd of people arrive, rejoicing that reverses have overtaken Napoleon. Scarpia and his policemen trace Angelotti to the church, where they find evidence of his recent presence. As they search for clews, Floria comes back with a message for Mario, and Scarpia, who wants her for himself, seizes the opportunity to rouse her jealousy, pointing out a fan dropped by the prisoner’s sister and insinuating that Mario has been inspired by more than a glimpse of a stranger’s face to paint the picture on the easel. His poison works well. Floria leaves weeping, followed by Scarpia’s spies.
In the second act, Scarpia is seen at supper in his apartments in the Farnese Palace. He learns from Spoletta that both Floria and Mario have been followed to their villa but no trace of Angelotti can be found. Floria is singing at an entertainment given by Queen Caroline in the palace below but Mario has been seized by Scarpia’s agents and brought to the house, from thence being conducted to the Chamber of Inquisition. Though subjected to frightful torture, the painter steadfastly refuses to disclose his friend’s whereabouts. Floria comes but she is just as steadfast under Scarpia’s pleas and threats, until she realizes what agony her lover is undergoing and is promised that her confession will release him from it. Then she informs Scarpia that Angelotti is hidden in a well in the garden. Mario is at once brought in unconscious and Floria tries to soothe his bruised head with tears and kisses. He rouses to hear Scarpia’s orders to search the well, and, knowing that Tosca has betrayed his friend, he curses her. News comes that Napoleon has just conquered the Royalists, and Mario, fearlessly rejoicing in the event, is carried away to be shot.
Floria would follow, but Scarpia restrains her, telling her that he holds Mario’s life in pawn for her. She spurns him, but he shows her the scaffold where her lover shall die in an hour, and she agrees to yield to his lustful desires. He writes the passport which the next day shall enable her and Mario to leave the city, and he promises her that Mario shall now have only a mock execution. When he comes toward her to claim his reward, she seizes a knife and stabs him to the heart, crying ” It is thus that Tosca kisses.”
After this tumult and tragedy, the curtain of the third act rises upon a quiet scene. It is the Castello St. Angelo, where Mario is held prisoner. The Vatican and St. Peter’s are visible in the background, the clear sky is thickly studded with stars, church bells sound from afar, a shepherd sings a love song in the distance. While Mario, who has for-given Floria, is lamenting that he must leave a world which holds this matchless woman, she appears with the safe-conduct she has taken from Scarpia’s dead hands. She tells him everything, that she has killed Scarpia, of his insults and of the execution which is to be a farce. Gaily she coaches him to simulate death for a moment, he answering, ” Do not fear love; I shall fall at the right moment and quite naturally,” and caresses the gentle hands which Fate has driven to such bitter deeds.
The jailor leads him out, Floria giving him many last instructions. ” You must not laugh,” she whispers. The sergeant offers to bandage his eyes but smiling he declines. When the soldiers fire, Floria stops her ears and nods as a signal that he must fall. How cleverly he acts ! As soon as she dares, she runs to tell him to get up but staggers back shrieking. He is dead. Spoletta and his men rush in to find her talking to her murdered lover. “It was Tosca who killed Scarpia,” they cry, “she shall pay with her life.” She thrusts them aside, springs to the parapet of the terrace and, calling upon Mario to meet her in heaven, throws herself into the depths below.
” La Tosca,” like all Puccini’s operas, is written in the modern style, without clearly defined aria or ensemble. Among the most nearly individualized passages in the score are Mario’s aria, comparing the blue-eyed beauty of the portrait and Floria’s dusky charm, ” Recondita armonia” (” Strange harmony of contrast”) ; Tosca’s song, ” Non la sospiri la nostra casetta” (” Dost thou not long “) ; Scarpia’s malicious soliloquy, ” Va, Tosca ! nel tuo cuor ” (” Go, Tosca! There is place in your heart “) ; Tosca’s touching appeal to heaven when in the grasp of Scarpia, ” Vissi d’arte e d’amor ” (” Love and Music, these have I lived for “) ; the shepherd’s song; Mario’s recollection of Floria, “E lucevan le stelle” (” When the stars were brightly shining “) and their duet when Floria tells him of her bloody deed, ” 0 dolci mani mansuete e pure ” (” 0 gentle hands “).