From Academic Kids

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. First performance: Rome, 1900.



  • Principle roles
    • Floria Tosca, an opera singer - Soprano
    • Mario Cavaradossi, a painter - Tenor
    • Baron Scarpia, the chief of the Roman police - Baritone
  • Minor roles
    • Cesare Angelotti, an underground fighter - Tenor
    • A Sacristan - Baritone
    • Spoletta, a police agent - Tenor
    • Sciarrone, Baron Scarpia's orderly - Bass
    • A Shepherd Boy - Treble
  • Other
    • A Jailer - Bass
    • Soldiers, police agents, ladies, citizens, choirboys - Chorus


Scene: Rome.
Time: June 1800.

Act I

Angelotti, an escaped political offender, seeks refuge in the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle where his family has a chapel. Here his sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, while praying for his release, has unwittingly served as a model to the painter Mario Cavaradossi for his picture of the Magdalen. Just a moment before a sacristan enters (followed shortly by Cavaradossi), Angelotti conceals himself in his private chapel; the sacristan assists the painter washing his brushes. Cavaradossi stops his work for a moment, regarding a medallion he had in his pocket: this medallion contains a miniature of Tosca and he makes a comparison between her 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: play with servants but respect saints), then leaves Cavaradossi alone to paint. Angelotti, thinking the church deserted, leaves his chapel. Upon seeing Cavaradossi, Angelotti rejoices: Cavaradossi is his friend and political ally. Angelotti begins to tell of his escape from Castel Sant'Angelo (papal Roman prison) but Tosca arrives. Cavaradossi gives him some food and helps him return to hide in the chapel.

Floria Tosca is a famous opera singer; she is here to invite her lover Mario meet her after her performance later that evening. However, Tosca is prone to jealousy, and her suspicions have been aroused, having heard Cavaradossi's speaking to someone upon her arrival. She jealously imagines an intrigue with a woman, and her fears are apparently confirmed by the portrait of Mary Magdalene, for whom she clearly was not the model -- Tosca has brown eyes, whereas the woman in the portrait has blue. Finally, Tosca realizes Mario has used Marchesa Attavanti as the model, but Mario assuages her suspicions. (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 the well. Cavaradossi swears, even if it costs him his life, he will save Angelotti from the wicked Scarpia (La vita mi costasse, vi salver – "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 and 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, who claims Cavaradossi did not have the key to the chapel and had not expressed any interest in the food; Tosca returns, still suspicious, and Scarpia watches her from behind a pillar. 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 II

In the Palazzo Farnese (now the embassy of France) where he lives, Scarpia is dining, while celebrations are heard outside. He sends a servant to invite Tosca to join him when she finishes with her recital. Cynically he sings of pleasure (Ella verr per amor del suo Mario – "She will come out of love for her Mario" and Ha pi 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.

Distant drums announce the probable victory of Bonaparte over Vatican forces. Cavaradossi, exulting (Cavaradossi: “Vittoria!”), is dragged away to prison. Tosca tries to follow him, but Scarpia holds her back. She asks him what the price is to free Mario (Scarpia: Mi dicon venal – “They say I'm venal.”) He avows his passion for her and lasciviously demands her body, her virtue, her herself as the price to save Mario’s freedom. 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 then orders Spoletta to organize for a mock execution of Cavaradossi, and 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 stabs him. (Questo 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).


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.

She 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”) 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 vicina – “Listen, the hour is near.”)(Cavaradossi: Amaro sol per te m'era il morire – "Dying was bitter only because of you"; Tosca: Amore 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. 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.

Noted arias

  • "Vissi d'arte" (Tosca)
  • "E lucevan le stelle" (Cavaradossi)
  • "Recondita armonia" (Cavaradossi)


The original play by Sardou had been produced in Paris in 1887 and seen by Puccini in Milan, in 1887, with Sarah Bernhardt 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 never would have composed music for it unless it had another ending.

After a few months Franchetti finally admitted he was not able to compose music for the work, so Giulio Ricordi 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 bohme; 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 put together, in order to suppress a triumphal "Latin hymn" they had proposed for Act III, reducing it to only the eighteen measures of Trionfal... di nuova speme.

In October 1899, after three years of difficult cooperation, the opera was ready. Being a Roman story, it was decided that the prima would be in the eternal city, at Teatro Costanzi. A notable curiosity had surrounded the work, whose preparation had been so long and troubled. Soprano Ericlea Darcle 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 Bohme's atmospheres was quite surprising.


Tosca is generally considered of capital importance in the history of opera because of its many highpoints.

It begins with a tragic atmosphere much darker than those that Puccini had got his public used to, but the composer is able to insert a basso buffo (the sacristan - Puccini was always very careful with minor characters) who gradually leads to the sweet Recondita armonia (which requires vocal intensity and extension, together with a deep interpretation), which is enriched by a famous paradigmatic controcanto.

Angelotti is again on the scene and the music is hollow again. But Tosca is quite soon introduced by the lighter duet that begins with the sensual Non la sospiri la nostra casetta, while the orchestra turns to a timbre very near to elements of so-called French impressionist music.

Once again Angelotti is back, once 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 intermezzo regards the sacristan, with choir, before Scarpia arrives. The orchestra is now deep and obscure again, but with energy and power this time, personifying the character of Scarpia the tyrant, the investigator, the judge. 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 Verdi's Otello and Falstaff.

Cavaradossi's questioning is in the style of "conversable", and ends with a notable external voice of Tosca singing a Paisiello cantata, a recalling of baroque as well as a realistic addition, as the story is set in June 1800.

Another period of stile di conversazione is suddenly broken with the Cavaradossi's intermezzo (Vittoria, vittoria), which was attentively awaited by loggionisti (spectators of the higher seat in the theatre, "loggione", the most technical ones) in order to test tenor's high notes.

The following episode is violently and nervously rendered by orchestra, and will end in the most famous melody Vissi d'arte, which requires the singer to show most of her capabilities: here loggionisti will test soprano's legato, high notes, consistency of central region, energy and fraseggio.

Act III begins with a memorable Roman symphonic harmony and ends in clamours, having passed through the outstanding E lucevan le stelle.


Many anecdotes made this opera even more famous and enjoyable, if possible.

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 Costanzi theatre a sound that was precise as only a recording would have been.

The tale of the bouncing Tosca: Tosca jumps, as usual, from the walls of Castel Sant'Angelo. But the stage workers had improved her safety by replacing the mattress with a trampoline: and so Tosca appeared two or three times from behind the wall

The tale of the collective suicide: the stage director gave last-minute instruction to the supers hired as soldiers, who had had no stage rehearsal, and he gave them a standard instruction "exit with the principals". When Tosca leapt from the parapet, seeing no other principals left on stage, they all dutifully jumped after her, giving a Shakespearean greatness to the final tragedy.

Soprano Renata Tebaldi, one of best Toscas at all, was famous for her exaggerated outcries in final scenes; once, in Tokyo, she decided not to jump for the final suicide, but chose instead to exit by the quinte, walking among 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 also had to improvise to save the diva in Act II. While he was on the floor, freshly killed, he realised that Callas was walking around the stage unable to find her way out, due to her proverbial myopia (she could wear glasses during rehearsal only, and contact lenses were not available yet). Gobbi tried to point out the exit, but started laughing so intensely that both his laughing and his pointing were seen by public. The morning after the newspapers raved about his memorable portrayal of Scarpia's death throes.

In 1964, at London's Covent Garden, Tito Gobbi was again with Callas. In the duet of Act II, the soprano went too near to the table, not realising that she was also too close to the candles. Soon smoke could be seen coming soon from her wig. Gobbi, realizing what was happening, anticipated the embrace they would have normally had several minutes later and extinguished the fire with his hand. Not 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.”

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.


  • Plot taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.
    Revised with regard to Casa Ricordi's libretto and notes.
  • Notes from Casa Ricordi - freely translated and adapted.da:Tosca

de:Tosca eo:Tosca es:Tosca it:La Tosca ja:トスカ zh:托斯卡


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