Note: Final annual performance: January 29. School performance on 9 February.
Opera. Love and jealousy, politics and murder, free artistic temperament against shrewd police power, passionate voices in devastatingly beautiful, falling Puccini melodies.
Tosca is a fiery opera of contrasts and the plot is that of a thriller. It is about the singer Floria Tosca, head over heels in love with the artist Mario Cavaradossi, and the police chief Scarpia, who wants Tosca. The historical background was the explosive time around 1800 when Napoleon crossed the Alps into Italy. Puccini composed the work when he was at the height of his creative power and the work was premiered in 1900. This new production is set in a magnificent part of Italy between two world wars.
Watch a movie from the performance.
Watch photos from the performance.
Watch an interview with director Lorenzo Mariani.
The story ends with evil, sudden death, but the work is resurrected, a Tosca production per decade is a “must”. The first production at The Göteborg Opera was staged in 1996, followed by three revivals, the latest in 2003. This time in the title role can be heard the renowned Ingela Brimberg. Tomas Lind, who most recently took part in our Don Carlos, sings Cavaradossi. The director is Lorenzo Mariani, artistic director of the prestigious opera house Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily.
Floria Tosca, Cavaradossi and Scarpia are all modelled on historic characters. In what way the city of Rome will be seen in The Göteborg Opera’s new Tosca, we will not reveal, other than that in a number of respects it will be a tremendous experience, in which the singer Tosca embodies the beauty and spirit of Italian musical theatre…
Watch a movie from the season presentation.
The history behind Puccini's Tosca.
The original première of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca took place in Rome on January 14, 1900 and the drama outside almost rivalled that played out on stage. The political scene in Rome was as volatile as at the time that Tosca was set - exactly 100 years previously. Italy had been united, but King Umberto I had been the subject of several failed assassination attempts. A group of supporters of Puccini's competitor Leoncavallo had decided to sabotage the première and an anonymous letter threatening to set off a bomb in the salon was received by the theatre. As the queen was to attend the première, it was feared that someone might attempt to assassinate her.
Rumours that the opera included the murder of a corrupt civil servant loyal to the king (Scarpia) had spread and the new opera was seen as dangerously subversive. The police performed thorough searches of all audience members outside the theatre entrances, which led to long delays. Those not allowed to enter created a ruckus that spread to the audience seated in the salon during the start of the first act. The conductor finally decided to stop the music and close the curtains. The national anthem was played and when the audience had calmed down the people waiting outside could be admitted and the performance recommenced from the beginning. The atmosphere was calm from then on and the opera received standing ovations. A few months later, King Umberto was murdered in a successful assassination attempt.
A melodrama becomes opera
Puccini found the original inspiration for his new opera 11 years earlier, when he saw Sarah Bernhardt perform the exciting melodrama Tosca, by Frenchman Victorien Sardou, in Milan. Sardou was a very popular dramatist who wrote many well-composed dramas with a focus on the thrill of the unfolding events rather than an attempt to delve deeply into the characters portrayed on stage. Several of them were written directly for the iconic Bernhardt and more than half of them have inspired operas. Despite the fact that Puccini didn't know a word of French (the only words he understood was Bernhardt hissing "Malhereux! Malheureux!" after the murder of Scarpia) he was entranced by the charged atmosphere and said that it formed an excellent basis for creating an opera. However, other events delayed its creation; Puccini had his breakthrough with Manon Lescaut in 1893 and his success continued with La Bohème in 1896. The publishing company Ricordi had offered composer Alberto Franchetti the rights to compose the music for Sardou's drama and even the ageing Verdi had indicated an interest provided he were to be allowed to change the last act. Puccini's interest was finally rekindled and Franchetti was persuaded to release the rights to compose the music, for which he was secretly relieved.
Librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, who had previously cooperated on Manon Lescaut and La Bohème, were asked to provide the libretto. As usual Illica constructed the course of events and the scenes, while Giacosa, who was the more poetic of the two, constructed the verse and dialogs. Sardou was also involved in the project, which was not without its difficulties. Puccini, who was a true theatre man, didn't want dialogues with no clear endings or any actual arias, but instead wanted the events to unfold quickly and effectively. Giacosa was disappointed as he couldn't fulfill his poetic leanings, and Illica wanted to end the opera with a mad scene for Tosca. Puccini's will proved the strongest the majority of the time. As an Italian, he was also disappointed in Sardou's limited geographical and historical knowledge of Rome - he is said to have exclaimed that "he'd probably change the location of the Tiber if he could", when Sardou insisted that Tosca was to jump into the river from Castel Sant'Angelo. Puccini was extremely diligent in ensuring that both text and music were correct in regards to locality. He visited Rome to listen to all its church bells at dawn - a sound which is replicated exactly in the music at the start of the third act. Puccini also located a poem in Roman dialect for the shepherd boy to sing in the same act and wrote to the Church to ask them to send something suitable fro the prayers of the first act. He threatened to convert to Protestantism if they didn't obey his demand.
The historical background to the events of Tosca is rather complicated. In the year of 1800, Italy was still divided into a number of smaller states, most of which were occupied by the Habsburg Empire (the Austro-Hungarian Empire). The French Revolution provided renewed inspiration for the freedom fighters, and in 1798 the French conquered the church-state of Rome and created a republic, governed by consul Cesare Angelotti. However, after a short period they were forced into retreat by the army of Naples, and Rome was returned to the Pope. In 1800 Napoleon won the Battle of Marengo and reconquered the northern parts of Italy - an event included in the second act of the opera where Cavarodossi breaks into jubilant song as he's notified of it, just before being executed. Intellectuals and artists saw Napoleon as liberating the country from the terror of the dictatorships and as aiding the uniting of Italy, whereas those loyal to the Pope and King,
such as Scarpia, tried to keep the Austro-Hungarian dominance and protect the Kingdom of Naples by all means. Between these two extremes we find Tosca, a singer loyal to the King who has fallen in love with the freedom fighter Cavaradossi.
All the main characters are inspired by real individuals: Floria Tosca was a soprano at the Teatro Argentina in Rome, educated by the composer Cimarosa and with a past as a shepherdess and nun. The artist Louis Cavaradossi was the son of a philosopher and a student of the revolutionary painter Jacques-Louis David. Vitellio Scarpia's work in removing any dissidents in his capacity of royalist Head of Police led to the creation of his nickname: the Hangman of Rome.
As in all of Puccini's operas there is a woman at the centre of Tosca. Puccini spent his whole childhood surrounded by women and hence had no difficulties in placing himself in their situation. He loved all women and is rumoured to have had an increasing amount of affairs as he became ever more famous, much to the annoyance of his wife Elvira. Puccini also carried a torch for all his opera heroines, from Mimì via Tosca, Butterfly and Sister Angelica to the slave Liù in Turandot. In the operas they are portrayed with great love and tenderness, but the love reaches a new degree as they are exposed to torture, whether physical or mental. They are often placed in a metaphorical vice, the screws of which are pulled ever tighter as the opera proceeds. The love for them is at its strongest when flavoured with a certain measurement of sadism, which also allows Puccini to tug at the heartstrings of the audience.
In most of his operas, there is a counterpart to the heroine, someone who harasses and tortures her, placing her in the awful situations that make us all cry over her fate. In Tosca, this role is of course played by Scarpia, but there are also female counterparts such as Sister Angelica or the cruel Princess Turandot. A third part is played by the tenor, who loves the heroine. Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly forms an interesting exception as he is transformed from loving partner to being the man who utterly destroys the heroine in the second act.
In Tosca, we meet the mature Puccini at the height of his creative abilities as his music inexorably follows and underlines the dramatic events on stage. In terms of style, Puccini was closely linked to the Verismo movement, an Italian equivalent to the Naturalism movement, where genuinely human characters peopled the stage, committing acts of ever-escalating violence that ended in death. In Tosca, the ingredients used are particularly powerful: murder, execution, torture, rape, jealousy, sexual extortion, suicide - just to mention a few.
Puccini punctuates the flow of the music, which is also very much inspired by the French Impressionist movement, with a number of melodic themes associated with a person or event. All characters (Tosca, Cavaradossi, Scarpia, Angelotti, the Sacristan, Spoletta) have their own musical motifs that are easily recognised.
Unlike Wagner, Puccini doesn't change these to fit the rest of the music as the events of the opera unfold; instead they remain pretty much the same throughout the entire opera. Before the curtains have even opened, Scarpia's pompous motif can be heard from the orchestra, a bold succession of chords that are extremely important throughout the opera. Even when Scarpia is not on stage, his fateful impact on events is conveyed through the music. It is followed by Angelotti's nervous and stressed escape motif, the Sacristan's comically jerky rising chords and so on.
In order to masterfully create atmosphere, Puccini liked to work with contrasts: a dramatic scene becomes stronger if it is contrasted with something idyllic or comical. Examples include the shepherd boy's carefree song and Cavaradossi's deep fear of death ahead of his execution; and the cantata that Tosca sings off-stage in the second act, which serves to increase the tension of the conversation between Scarpia and Cavaradossi to unbearable levels.
A great role for a great soprano
At the turbulent première in Rome, Tosca was sung by Romanian soprano Hariclea Darclée, who was at the height of a decade-long career as a dramatic soprano. The young Enrico Caruso had hoped to be chosen for the role of Cavaradossi, but it was instead awarded to the more experienced Emilio de Marchi. Baritone Eugenio Giraldoni sang Scarpia. The production was directed by Puccini's publisher Tito Ricordi. The opera became a reasonable success, considering the circumstances, even though Puccini was used to longer ovations after his success with Manon Lescaut and La Bohème. The expectations of any work by Puccini were now much higher and the opera received mixed reviews, with most critics reserving judgement. However, it was soon clear that the opera had been a success. Within two months, Tosca had been performed in Turin and at La Scala (conducted by Toscanini) and within the year it was performed in London, Constantinople, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid.
Tosca's grand singing role soon attracted the top singers, who took great interest in infusing the role with tense drama. One of these singers was Maria Jeritza, who during a rehearsal watched by Puccini fell just before Tosca's prayer. She sang the aria lying down, which the composer found to be an excellent way to further emphasise the vulnerability of the heroine. It soon became customary to perform it in this exact manner. Of the long line of interpreters such as Claudia Muzio, Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi, Magda Olivero, Birgit Nilsson, Leontyne Price and Montserrat Caballé, Maria Callas deserves a special mention. At first, Maria wanted to get rid of Tosca's prayer (!) as she believed it interrupted the dramatic flow. She was persuaded otherwise and her performance in London alongside Tito Gobbi's Scarpia is seen as one of the most suspenseful in the history of opera. Luckily, the second act was preserved on film for us all to enjoy, and to serve as the standard that subsequent performers should aim for.
Tosca was first performed in Sweden in 1904 at the Royal Swedish Opera, with Anna Oscàr singing the title role. It has been performed at all Swedish opera houses: Göteborg, Malmö, Karlstad and Umeå; and at Folkoperan in Stockholm. The first performance in Göteborg was in 1912, with a guest performance from the Royal Swedish Opera, and Magna Lykseth performing the title role. It was followed by a further eight Tosca productions in Göteborg. The production performed at Stora Teatern in 1957 received a lot of attention as it was placed in Mussolini's Italy and temporal movements were relatively unusual at the time. Coincidentally and luckily, the team in charge of the new production at the Göteborg Opera have chosen the exact same time period.