Tosca - Synopsis

Tosca: Anja Harteros, Stefano La Colla Tosca: Zeljko Lucic, Anja Harteros Tosca: Anja Harteros


Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa und Luigi Illica after Victorien Sardou's La Tosca (1887)


Two Days in June

The Queen of Naples, Maria Carolina, the daughter of Maria-Theresia and the sister of Marie Antoinette of France has taken Rome and toppled the „Roman Republic“ created there as a result of the Napoleonic occupation. Baron Vitellio Scarpia, the head of her secret police, is combing the streets of the city with his spies, looking for former Republicans. On June 14th, Napoleon’s troops go into battle with the troops of the Austrian General Melas, who is fi ghting for the cause of the allied European aristocracy, in Marengo in Northern Italy. During the night of June 17th two messages about the outcome of the battle arrive in Rome: the fi rst announces the defeat of Napoleon. The queen plans a celebration in the Palazzo Farnese in honour of the general. The primadonna Floria Tosca, the mistress of the painter Mario Cavaradossi, who sympathizes with the Republican cause which now seems lost, is to sing at the celebration.

Act 1: The Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle

The former consul of the Republic, Cesare Angelotti, accused of high treason, has escaped from imprisonment in the Castello S. Angelo. He seeks refuge in the church of S. Andrea della Valle, in which the painter Mario Cavaradossi has been working for days on a picture of Mary Magdalene. When he hears footsteps approaching, Angelotti hides in his family’s chapel.

The pious verger is outraged about the political views of the painter and about the fact that the saint in his picture looks very much like a woman who comes every day to pray in the church. After the verger has left, Angelotti comes out of hiding in the chapel. Cavaradossi recognizes him and promises to help him. When he hears Tosca impatiently demanding access to the locked church he urges Angelotti to hide in the chapel again. He explains that his mistress is unable to keep anything a secret from her father confessor and would potentially be an element of risk if she knew about his fl ight. Tosca, always quick to be jealous, surmises something quite different. She suspects there is another woman with Cavaradossi and the fact that the Mary Magdalene in the picture looks nothing at all like herself but like the Countess Attavanti only increases her jealousy. Cavaradossi reassures her and, promising to spend the evening with her in his villa, impatiently urges her to leave.

Cavaradossi learns from Angelotti the reason for the daily visits of the Countess Attavanti, who without knowing it has been the model for the picture in the altarpiece. She is Angelotti’s sister and on her visits to the church she has made preparations for her brother’s fl ight and hidden women’s clothing for him. A canon shot is fi red to announce the discovery of Angelotti’s escape. Cavaradossi offers him a safe hiding-place in the garden of his villa and takes him there himself. The verger arrives with the news of the Austrian defeat of Napoleon. He calls together the clergy and the choristers for a solemn Te Deum. Scarpia has the church searched for the escaped prisoner and interrogates the verger. He, too, notices the picture of Mary Magdalene which so closely ressembles Angelotti’s sister and draws his own conclusions about the connection between the painter and the escaped. He fi nds a fan belonging to the countess and intended for her brother’s use in his escape, which he has left behind in his haste to leave the chapel.

Tosca returns in order to postpone her assignment with Cavaradossi as she has to sing at the queen’s victory celebration. Scarpia uses his fi nd, so obviously a woman’s possession, to rouse Tosca’s jealousy. She sets off for Cavaradossi’s villa, thinking she will catch her Mario out with his lover – with Scarpia’s men at her heels, who have been instructed to fi nd Angelotti’s hiding-place. The clergy are celebrating the victory of the monarchy and God’s order with the Te Deum. Before joining in with religious zeal, Scarpia admits that he is driven by quite different things than political obedience. He lustily pictures himself hanging Cavaradossi and then making Tosca, whom he has long desired, his own.

Act 2: Palazzo Farnese

The queen’s celebration is in full swing in the palace and Scarpia, who has set up his headquarters on an upper fl oor of the palace, is waiting for the performance to end. His spies bring him the news that Cavaradossi has been arrested; they have not, however, been able to fi nd Angelotti. Cavaradossi is interrogated by Scarpia, in the background can be heard the sound of his beloved‘s voice singing a cantata in praise of God at the celebration below. Cavaradossi denies all knowledge of Angelotti; Scarpia has him taken away to be tortured. Tosca arrives at Scarpia’s invitation. She cannot bear the sound of her lover’s screams of anguish as he is being tortured in an ante-chamber and reveals to Scarpia exactly where Angelotti is hiding. Cavaradossi is brought in and Scarpia enjoys telling him of Tosca’s betrayal. A new message arrives – the news of the victory from Marengo was premature, Napoleon has in fact defeated the Austrians. Cavaradossi is delighted and shows it, Scarpia reacts by ordering him to be executed. Scarpia’s agents return a second time from Cavaradossi’s villa: Angelotti has killed himself on being discovered.

Tosca begs for mercy for Cavaradossi and Scarpia offers her a deal: if she will spend one night with him, he will spare Cavaradossi, merely order a mock execution, simulated only, and make it possible for the two of them to escape from Rome with a letter of safe conduct. Tosca agrees.

Scarpia gives orders for the mock execution, everything is to be done exactly as it was in a former case. Alone with Tosca, Scarpia writes the letter, Tosca sees a knife on the table. Scarpia approaches Tosca to claim her part of the deal. Tosca stabs him through the heart. She grabs the paper from Scarpia’s hand and makes the sign of the cross, before she fl ees, over the man who loved to cause fear and terror in Rome.

Act 3: Castello S. Angelo

A new morning breaks over Rome, accompanied by the ringing of church bells. Cavaradossi is led to a platform in the castle to be shot. He writes a last letter to Tosca and fi nishes with his life. Tosca fi ghts her way through to the condemned man and shows him the safe conduct. The unexpected turn of events, Tosca’s story of her deal with Scarpia and the planned mock execution give him new strength. Tosca gives him some advice about how to pretend to be dead. The soldiers of the fi ring squad take up their position, raise their guns and fire. Cavaradossi slumps to the ground. From a distance Tosca admires the convincing act of her lover, who has no theatrical experience. When she is left alone with him she urges him to stand up. When he does not move, she runs across to him and discovers the deception: Cavaradossi is dead. Scarpia has cheated her. His body has been discovered in the meantime. His men hurry to the platform of the castle to grab Tosca. She climbs on to the balustrade of the castle wall and jumps.

Miron Hakenbeck
Translation: Susan Bollinger