As opera plots go, this one is simple. All the action takes place in a 24 hour period in Rome in the year 1800. The painter Cavaradossi stumbles upon an old revolutionary comrade on the run from a jailbreak and helps him with food and a good hiding place. But the ruthless police chief Scarpia appears and finds reason to suspect Cavaradossi of just that. Although the painter denies all, Scarpia proceeds to torture him to see if he’s lying, and forces his inamorata Tosca, a singer, to listen. Scarpia is clearly obsessed with Tosca – he proclaims in the Te Deum scene of the first act “Tosca, you make me forget God” – and uses her relationship with Cavaradossi to attempt a two-fer – get the information he wants and possess her as well. When Tosca can no longer stand her lover’s screams, she reveals the truth to Scarpia. Since she confirms that Cavaradossi has in fact aided a political enemy of the state, it is not at all clear what Tosca thinks the happy ending could be for her lover (and herself as well). Well, it is usually a capital error to expect much logic from opera characters, so strike that thought. Nevertheless, Tosca seems to work out a solution, and through double double-crosses the opera moves on to its dramatic conclusion.
|Cover of the Original 1899 Libretto|
In the Lyric Opera Companion, Stephanie von Buchau writes that "the most memorable slur cast on opera ... is Professor Joseph Kerman's celebrated dismissal: Tosca, that shabby little shocker." But, she writes, "Tosca, like all of Puccini's mature operas, consists of more than just a series of caloric tunes draped over a lurid story line in dubious taste. Puccini was an artisan, and however you rate his inspiration, you have to rate his craftsmanship very near the top of the list." No argument here, but in Tosca we the audience do not develop quite the same emotional attachment to Tosca as we do, for example, with Mimi in Boheme or Cho-Cho-San in Butterfly.
Tosca has been a favorite at Lyric Opera. It was featured in the company’s first season in 1954, although it may have been performed in the city earlier as there had been previous opera companies. That first production featured Eleanor Steber as Tosca, Giuseppe Di Stefano as Cavaradossi, and Tito Gobbi as Scarpia. Two years later Tosca was back, this time with Renata Tebaldi, Jussi Bjoerling, and Gobbi again. In the Lyric’s first 25 seasons, Tosca was featured in 10 of them with Gobbi as Scarpia in eight. In 1976 there was a newcomer to the role of Cavaradossi at the Lyric – Luciano Pavarotti, whose "favorite tenor and idol," according to his Wikipedia entry, was the Lyric's very first in that role, Giuseppe Di Stefano.
Some related posts:
Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera
The Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014
La Boheme at the Lyric
Aida at the Lyric
Show Boat at the Lyric Opera