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Opera Essentials: Tosca

Our quick introduction to Puccini’s (not so) ‘shabby little shocker’, which features some of the composer’s most evocative music.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

31 December 2015 at 1.40pm | Comment on this article

The Story Begins…

When the impulsive painter Mario Cavaradossi agrees to help a fugitive escape, he sets in motion a chain of events that will lead to disaster for him, his lover Floria Tosca and the sadistic Scarpia, Chief of Police in Rome.

Heaven and Hell

Puccini vividly brings to life the very different worlds of the lovers Tosca and Cavaradossi and the evil Scarpia. In their duets in Act I and Act III and their arias Tosca and Cavaradossi sing in long flowing melodies that highlight the beauty of the human voice. Scarpia’s music, on the other hand, is dark and harsh, his vocal lines accompanied by dissonant harmonies in the orchestra. These two musical worlds combine strikingly and often chillingly throughout the opera.

Sacred and Secular

Jonathan Kent’s largely naturalistic production creates a sense of the conflict in the character of Tosca between passion and religion, and highlights Scarpia’s hypocritical piety. In Act I the statue of the Virgin contrasts to the sensual image of the half-naked Mary Magdalen painted by Cavaradossi. In Act II a massive statue of the righteous St Michael stands in ironic contrast to the brutality of Scarpia, who tortures Cavaradossi in his private room and nearly rapes Tosca. In Act III a vast carved wing shadows the lovers, as if an angel is watching their final moments.

From Melodrama to Operatic Triumph

Tosca is based on the play La Tosca, written by the French playwright Victorien Sardou for the great actress Sarah Bernhardt. Puccini and his librettists softened the melodrama of Sardou’s play, making Tosca a far more intelligent and likeable character, and the love between her and Cavaradossi more tender and passionate. As always with Puccini librettos, much superfluous information from the play was cut to make a tightly constructed operatic drama.

An Audience Favourite

Although Tosca has always had a mixed reception from other composers and critics – academic Joseph Kerman famously called it a ‘shabby little shocker’, and Mahler wouldn’t conduct it – audiences love it, and it has been performed more than 450 times at the Royal Opera House.

Tosca runs 9 January–5 February 2016. Tickets are still available.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

31 December 2015 at 1.40pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged by Jonathan Kent, essentials, giacomo puccini, history, Jonathan Kent, La Tosca, Opera Essentials, Production, Sarah Bernhardt, Tosca, Victorien Sardou

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