[tos-kuh; It. taws-kah]
Tosca is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on Victorien Sardou's drama, La Tosca. The work premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on January 14 1900.

One of the most dramatic of operas and a staple of the standard operatic repertoire, Tosca appears as number 8 on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America.


The original play by Victorien Sardou was produced in Paris in 1887, and first seen by Puccini in Milan in 1887 with Sarah Bernhardt performing as Tosca. Puccini immediately asked his editor Giulio Ricordi to buy Sardou's rights, but these were finally bought only in 1893 to be given to Alberto Franchetti, another composer. Illica wrote his libretto, and in October 1894, Franchetti, Ricordi, Illica and Giuseppe Verdi met Sardou to present him the libretto. Verdi was particularly fascinated by this tragedy, but he refused to compose music for it unless Sardou could come up with another ending.

After a few months Franchetti finally admitted he was not able to compose music for the work; Giulio Ricordi then asked Puccini to do it. Puccini was still offended and only Verdi's intercession convinced him to accept. He started working on it in 1896, after the completion of La Bohème; Ricordi set Giuseppe Giacosa to work with Luigi Illica for the libretto, but Giacosa did not perform up to his own standards, and had several personal disputes with Sardou. Puccini too had disputes with Illica, Giacosa and Ricordi together. They had proposed a triumphal "Latin hymn" for Act III, but Puccini finally convinced them to reduce it to only the eighteen measures of Trionfal... di nuova speme.

In October 1899, after three years of difficult collaboration, the opera was ready for production. Since it is a story about Rome, it was decided that the prima would be set in the eternal city, at Teatro Costanzi. A notable curiosity had surrounded the work, whose preparation had been so long and troubled. Soprano Hariclea Darclee was Tosca, tenor Emilio De Marchi was Cavaradossi, baritone Eugenio Giraldoni was Scarpia. Leopoldo Mugnone served as Director. Queen Margherita, prime minister Pelloux and many composers, among them Pietro Mascagni, Francesco Cilea, Franchetti and Sgambati, were among the public.

The success was complete, even if the difference between Tosca's and La bohème 's atmospheres was quite surprising.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, January 14, 1900
(Conductor: Leopoldo Mugnone)
Floria Tosca, a celebrated singer soprano Hariclea Darclée
Mario Cavaradossi, a painter tenor Emilio de Marchi
Baron Scarpia, chief of police baritone Eugenio Giraldoni
Cesare Angelotti, former Consul of the Roman Republic bass Ruggero Galli
A sacristan bass Ettore Borelli
Spoletta, a police agent tenor Enrico Giordano
Sciarrone, a gendarme bass Giuseppe Gironi
A jailer bass Aristide Parassani
A shepherd-boy alto Angelo Righi
Soldiers, police agents, noblemen and women, townsfolk, artisans


Place: Rome
Time: June 1800.

Act 1

The church of Sant'Andrea della Valle

Angelotti, an escaped political offender, seeks refuge in the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle where his family has a chapel. His sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, while praying for his release, has unwittingly served as a model to the painter, Mario Cavaradossi for his portrait of the Magdalen. A few minutes before a sacristan enters (followed shortly by Cavaradossi), Angelotti conceals himself in his family's chapel. The sacristan assists the painter, washing his brushes. When Cavaradossi stops his work for a moment, he takes out a medallion from his pocket: this medallion contains a miniature portrait of Tosca, his lover. He makes a comparison between Tosca and the model he was portraying (Recondita armonia – "Concealed harmony").

The sacristan makes a controcanto (Scherza con i fanti e lascia stare i santi - which became a proverb: Joke with fools, but leave the saints in heaven), then leaves Cavaradossi alone to paint. When the sacristan leaves, Angelotti comes out of his chapel. Cavaradossi is his friend and political ally. Angelotti begins to tell of his escape from Castel Sant'Angelo (papal Roman prison) but the arrival of Tosca interrupts their conversation (Tosca : Mario! Mario! Mario!). Cavaradossi gives Angelotti some food and helps him return to hide in the chapel.

Floria Tosca is a singer, and she goes to the church to invite Mario Cavaradossi to meet her after her performance in the evening. However, Tosca is unreasonably jealous, and her suspicions have been aroused, having heard Cavaradossi's speaking to someone upon her arrival. She imagines an intrigue with a woman, and her fears are apparently confirmed by the portrait of Mary Magdalene. She says that the blue-eyed model looks very familiar. Finally, Tosca realizes Mario has used Marchesa Attavanti as the model, but Mario assuages her suspicions. Tosca has brown eyes, whereas the woman in the portrait has blue. (Qual occhio al mondo – "What eyes in the world can be compared to your eyes").

Tosca, her jealousy abated, leaves, but not before playfully insisting he make the Magdalene's eyes dark, like hers.

Angelotti reappears, and his escape is planned: Angelotti will don woman's attire (that his sister had hidden in the altar) and flee to Cavaradossi's villa; if necessary, Angelotti will hide in the well. Cavaradossi swears, even if it costs him his life, he will save Angelotti from the wicked Scarpia (La vita mi costasse, vi salverò – "Even if it costs me my life, I'll save you"). A cannon shot from the fortress (Castel Sant'Angelo) warns that his escape has been discovered and compels him to flee; the painter exits the church with him.

The sacristan returns surrounded by a laughing crowd of choir boys and acolytes. (Sacristan, chorus: Tutta qui la cantoria! – “All here, into the choir loft”) They falsely believe that Napoleon has been defeated and are there to sing a thankful Te Deum, when Scarpia, chief of police, arrives with Spoletta and some of his men in search of the escaped prisoner. In the Attavantis' chapel Spoletta finds the fan of the Marchesa and the painter's basket emptied of food and wine. Scarpia threateningly asks the sacristan about this, but the latter maintains that Cavaradossi did not have the key to the chapel and had not expressed any interest in the food. Scarpia shrewdly concludes that Cavaradossi is connected with Angelotti's escape.

Tosca returns to explain to Cavaradossi that she must perform in the celebration of cantata and will not be able to meet him. Finding that Cavaradossi has left, she begins to feel suspicious. Meanwhile the church fills up and a Cardinal prepares for the Te Deum.

Scarpia arouses Tosca's jealousy by producing Attavanti's fan, and she departs in anger. Ordering his agent to follow her (Tre sbirri, una carrozza – "Three policeman, a carriage"), he passionately avows his love for the singer, then kneels devoutly in prayer. (Scarpia: Va' Tosca, nel tuo cuor s'annida Scarpia – "Go, Tosca, in your heart is nesting Scarpia"; Chorus: Adiutorium nostrum – "My help is in God's name"; Scarpia: A doppia mira tendo il voler – "At two goals I aim my desire").

Act 2

Scarpia's room at Palazzo Farnese (now the embassy of France)

Scarpia is dining alone while celebrations are heard outside. He sends a servant to give a note to Tosca to invite her to join him when she finishes with her recital. Cynically he sings of pleasure (Ella verrà per amor del suo Mario – "She will come out of love for her Mario" and Ha più forte sapore la conquista violenta – "The violent conquest has a stronger flavor") presuming she will surrender to his power.

Spoletta, his agent, enters with Cavaradossi in custody but without Angelotti, who has eluded him. Scarpia closely questions the painter, but Cavaradossi reveals nothing. Tosca arrives and the painter whispers to her not to say anything about Angelotti. Scarpia sends Cavaradossi off to be tortured, then turns his attention to Tosca (Scarpia: Ed or fra noi parliam da buoni amici – “Now, let us talk like good friends”) Scarpia describes to her in detail her lover’s anguish under torture. She can hear his groans, but is powerless to help him. At last, utterly prostrated, she divulges Angelotti’s hiding-place. The painter is brought out, and Scarpia indicates he knows where Angelotti is hiding. In his pain and humiliation, Cavaradossi denounces Tosca for her betrayal of the secret.

Sciarrone enters to announce that earlier reports were mistaken, Bonaparte has defeated the royalist forces at the Battle of Marengo. Cavaradossi, exulting (Vittoria!), is taken away to prison. Tosca attempts to follow him, but is held back by Scarpia. She asks what the price is to free Mario (Scarpia: Mi dicon venal – “They say I'm venal.”) Scarpia avows his passion for her and lasciviously demands her body, her virtue, and herself, as the price. Tosca attempts to flee but is restrained by Scarpia as he attempts to rape her. During the struggle drums are heard – Scarpia indicates that they are the drums beating Cavaradossi to the scaffold. Tosca finally collapses and asks the Lord the reason for all this cruelty against her (Tosca: Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore – “I lived on art, I lived on love”; Scarpia: Sei troppo bella, Tosca, e troppo amante – “You're too beautiful, Tosca, and too loving”). Spoletta enters to announce that Angelotti committed suicide just as Scarpia’s agents discovered him in the well at Cavaradossi’s villa.

Feeling as if she has no alternative, Tosca finally agrees to yield. Scarpia orders Spoletta to organize for a mock execution of Cavaradossi, while Tosca demands a safe-conduct for herself and the painter to leave the country. While she is waiting for Scarpia to write it, she notices a knife on the table, and makes the decision to kill Scarpia rather than allow him to rape her. As he advances to embrace her, she plunges the knife into him. (Questo è il bacio di Tosca–"This is Tosca's kiss"). Having piously composed the body for burial, she departs to the sound of drums in the distance (E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma – "And before him trembled all of Rome").

Act 3

Top floor of Castel Sant' Angelo where Cavaradossi is due to be executed

Church bells announce the beginning of the day while a shepherd sings a stornello in romanesco, the Roman dialect. Cavaradossi, in prison, awaits his execution. For the price of a ring (his last possession), Cavaradossi convinces a jailer to deliver a note to Tosca, then starts writing a farewell letter (E lucevan le stelle – “And the stars were shining.”). With the last line (E non ho amato mai tanto la vita – "And never have I loved life so much"), he bursts into tears.

Tosca enters with Spoletta and a sergeant, bringing the safe-conduct and explains to him how she killed Scarpia in order to save them both (Tosca: Il tuo sangue o il mio amor volea – “He wanted your blood or my love”). Cavaradossi holds her hands and sings the arioso O dolci mani (O sweet hands). She then explains the mock execution which she believes to be arranged for him, and with triumphant and high emotion, they begin to dream of their future together. (Duet: Senti, l'ora è vicina – “Listen, the hour is near.”)(Cavaradossi: Amaro sol per te m'era il morire – "Dying was bitter only because of you"; Tosca: Amor che seppe a te vita serbare – "My love, which was able to save your life"; final duet: Trionfal... di nova speme – "Triumphant, with new hope.")

The soldiers fire; Mario falls. Tosca playfully compliments Mario on his marvellous acting (Ecco un artista – "There's an artist"). When the executioners leave, Tosca runs to Mario and tells him to get up (Su, Su, Mario! Su presto andiam!) . When he does not respond, Tosca realizes the truth: Scarpia had never intended to spare Cavaradossi, but had given Spoletta orders to execute him. Cavaradossi lies dead. As Tosca comes to this realization, Spoletta, who has discovered Scarpia's death, enters with soldiers, denouncing her as a murderer. He comes forward to take Tosca prisoner, but she pushes him away. She then jumps from the ramparts of the castle and falls to her death ("O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!" - "O Scarpia, we shall meet before God!"). As she falls, the orchestra restates briefly but forte the tragic clarinet theme which has introduced Cavaradossi's earlier aria (E lucevan le stelle).

Musical analysis

Tosca begins on an imposing, quasi-tragic note, much darker than the opening pages of Puccini's earlier operas. However, the composer takes care to introduce the Sacristan, a basso buffo, for comic relief. Puccini was always very careful to include well-defined minor characters. The Sacristan's banter with Mario gradually leads to the aria Recondita armonia. This piece requires vocal intensity and extension, together with depth of interpretation from the tenor, and is enriched by the Sacristan's countermelody.

Angelotti returns to the scene and the music darkens; but with Tosca's entrance and the duet Non la sospiri la nostra casetta, a lighter note returns, with orchestral timbres very near to elements of French impressionist music.

When Angelotti is seen again, Puccini brings back a tragic atmosphere, of similar depth as in the first scenes; Angelotti is clearly the musical key of the tragedy, much more than Scarpia.

A nearly comic interlude features the sacristan and the chorus, creating an overall cheerful tone. This is immediately interrupted with the arrival of Scarpia, as the orchestra once more becomes deep and obscure, but with energy and power this time, conveying the overall power held by the police chief. Every accent and word of Scarpia is underscored by Puccini to depict a character with a depth of evil that finds comparison perhaps only in the character of Iago in Verdi's Otello. The darkness of the orchestra continues throughout the scene of the search of the church. However, upon Tosca's sudden arrival in the cathedral, the sinister nature of the music is toned down significantly, as Scarpia acts politely towards Tosca. However, as the Scarpia begins to play upon Tosca's jealousy, the music continues in its darkened tone. This darkened tone remains during the final portions of the act.

The episode of Cavaradossi's interrogation is written in a "conversational" musical style; it ends with an example of diegetic music, as Tosca sings a cantata – a recalling of the baroque tradition within the realist context of the opera.

Another "conversational" passage is suddenly cut short with Cavaradossi's outburst of Vittoria, vittoria, which is eagerly anticipated by the loggionisti (connoisseurs in cheap seats) desirous of critiquing the tenor's high notes.

The following episode includes vehement, nervous music for the orchestra, ending in the famous aria Vissi d'arte, an aria which requires the singer to show most of her capabilities: here, the loggionisti will seek to critique the soprano's legato, her high notes, her consistency in the middle range of the voice, her energy and her fraseggio.

Act III includes an orchestral introduction, descriptive of the Roman countryside, the famous aria E lucevan le stelle, and the opera's violent conclusion, to a brief forte restatement of the 'E lucevan...' theme..


Puccini had a devotion for precision that could not be fought. For the Te Deum procession, he arranged for one of Ricordi's workers to be sent to Rome, where he stayed several months to find whatever material available on that subject in shops, libraries, museums, etc.; finally, he received from an old friar the precise drawing of the role of each participant, and a set of 18 handpainted tablets describing it.

For the opening of Act III, Puccini asked a priest to decipher the precise tone of the bells of Castel Sant'Angelo, and notably the tone of the large bell of St. Peter's basilica (it is a natural mi (E)) so he was able to perform at the Teatro Costanzi a sound that was precise as only a recording would have been.

The tale of the bouncing Tosca: This supposedly occurred at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and involved a British soprano. As Tosca, she was supposed to leap to her death from the walls of Castel Sant'Angelo. Usually, the actress lands on a mattress. But the stage workers had thoughtfully improved her safety by replacing the mattress with a trampoline: the result was that Tosca appeared two or three times from behind the wall. (Another version describes this as an act of revenge for troublesome behavior by the soprano.) Eva Turner has admitted to being that Tosca, in a TV special hosted by Robert Merrill in which he interviewed some of the greatest Toscas of the century, including Eva Turner, Grace Bumbry, Renata Tebaldi, Zinka Milanov, Ljuba Welitsch and Birgit Nilsson, among others.

The collective suicide after shooting the wrong principal: Another delightful, but probably apocryphal, anecdote is the one which allegedly happened at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco - to the same "Bouncing Tosca" from Chicago.

The firing squad were played by supernumeraries who received last minute instruction to shoot the person they found onstage, and then to exit with the principals. However, When they got onstage, they discovered there were two people there instead of one. Not knowing which one to shoot, they wavered back and forth a bit as both principals said not to shoot them. They finally settled on Tosca, shot her, and looked bewildered when Mario keeled over dead. They also did not leave, since they were told to exit with the principals - and neither of the principals were exiting. Tosca made some gestures to shoo them away, but they remained onstage until Spoletta came in with the soldiers. When Tosca jumped from the parapet, they saw their chance to finally exit with at least one of the principals, and jumped down after her, giving a Shakespearean greatness to the final tragedy.

Soprano Renata Tebaldi, considered by many to be one of the best Toscas ever, was famous for her melodramatic cries in the final scenes. Once, in Tokyo, she decided not to jump for the final suicide, but chose instead to exit by the quinte, walking among the astonished policemen as only a diva could.

Famous baritone Tito Gobbi, a very original Scarpia, recalled a prima, or premiere, with Maria Callas, in which he had to improvise to save the diva in Act II. While he was on the floor, having just been killed, he realised that Callas was walking around the stage unable to find her way out. She had severe myopia and, while she could wear glasses during rehearsal, her eyes would not tolerate contact lenses. Gobbi tried to discreetly point out the exit, but started laughing so intensely that both his laughing and his pointing were seen by the audience. The morning after, the newspapers raved about his memorable portrayal of Scarpia's death throes. In other performances, he was able to whisper directions to her so that she could make a satisfactory exit.

In 1964, at London's Royal Opera House, Tito Gobbi was again with Callas. As he recounts in his autobiography, during a dress rehearsal of the duet in Act II, Callas moved close to the table, not realising that she was getting too close to the candles. Soon smoke could be seen coming from her wig. Gobbi pretended to attempt to embrace her, as he did so closing his hands over the fire in her hair. Not at first understanding what he was doing, Callas stared at him with a perplexed expression, so Gobbi extended his burnt hand very near to her face and then pointed to the candles. Callas interpolated her own “grazie, Tito.”

Gobbi also paid tribute to the ferocity of Callas’ acting in this role, noting that he was often afraid during their performances that she really would kill him in Act II. She very nearly did so, when the knife she was using failed to retract. Gobbi was cut, but not severely hurt, and with a cry of "My God!" went right on with his death scene.

Selected recordings

Year Cast
(Tosca, Cavaradossi, Scarpia)
Opera House and Orchestra
1938 Maria Caniglia,
Beniamino Gigli,
Armando Borgioli
Oliviero De Fabritiis,
Teatro dell'Opera di Roma Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Naxos Records
Cat: 8.110096-97
Audio CD: Opera D'oro
Cat: 723723887825
1946 Grace Moore,
Jan Peerce,
Lawrence Tibbett
Cesare Sodero,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Myto Records Italy
Cat: MCD 942 98
1953 Maria Callas,
Giuseppe di Stefano,
Tito Gobbi
Victor de Sabata,
La Scala orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: EMI Classics
Cat: 7243 5 62890 2 4
1957 Zinka Milanov,
Jussi Björling,
Leonard Warren
Erich Leinsdorf,
Teatro dell'Opera di Roma orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: BMG Classics
Cat: 09026-63305-2
1962 Leontyne Price,
Giuseppe di Stefano,
Giuseppe Taddei
Herbert von Karajan,
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Audio CD: Decca
Cat: 028946638422
1976 Montserrat Caballé,
José Carreras,
Ingvar Wixell
Sir Colin Davis,
Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Philips
Cat: 028943835923
Mirella Freni,
Plácido Domingo,
Samuel Ramey
Giuseppe Sinopoli,
Philharmonia Orchestra
Royal Opera House
Covent Garden Chorus and Children's Chorus
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 028943177528
Raina Kabaivanska,
Plácido Domingo,
Sherrill Milnes
Bruno Bartoletti,
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Ambrosian Singers
(Film - directed by Gianfranco De Bosio)
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 00440 073 4038
1980 Renata Scotto,
Plácido Domingo,
Renato Bruson
James Levine,
Philharmonia Orchestra
Ambrosian Singers
Audio CD: EMI Classics
Cat: 66504
1985 Hildegard Behrens,
Plácido Domingo,
Cornell MacNeil
Giuseppe Sinopoli,
Metropolitan Opera orchestra and chorus
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 00440 073 4100
1992 Catherine Malfitano,
Plácido Domingo,
Ruggero Raimondi
Zubin Mehta,
RAI Orchestra Sinfonica and Coro di Roma
(Film - directed by Brian Large / Giuseppe Patroni Griffi)
VHS: Teldec Video
Cat: 6302779715
1998 Catherine Malfitano,
Richard Margison,
Bryn Terfel
Riccardo Chailly,
De Nederlandse Opera
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera
(Film - directed by Misjel Vermeiren)
DVD: Decca
Cat: 074 3201
2001 Angela Gheorghiu,
Roberto Alagna,
Ruggero Raimondi
Antonio Pappano,
Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
(Film - directed by Benoît Jacquot)
DVD: EMI Classics
Cat: 7243 5 57173 2 0
2004 Daniela Dessi,
Fabio Armiliato,
Ruggero Raimondi
Maurizio Benini,
Teatro Real Orchestra and Chorus
(Film - directed by Nuria Espert)
DVD: Opus Arte
Cat: 901

Note: "Cat:" is short for catalogue number by the label company.



  • Melitz, Leo. " The Opera Goer's Complete Guide New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1921.
  • Ricordi, Casa
  • Vandiver, Susan, Tosca's Rome: The Play and the Opera in Historical Perspective, Nicassio, The University of Chicago Press, 1999. ISBN 0-226-57971-9

External links

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