About this Recording
8.553153 - PUCCINI, G.: Tosca (Highlights) (Miricioiu, Lamberti, Carroli, Rahbari)
English 

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Tosca (Highlights)

Opera in 3 Acts
Libretto: Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Tosca, a famous singer - Nelly Miricioiu, Soprano
Cavaradossi, painter - Giorgio Lamberti, Tenor
Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police - Silvano Carroli, Baritone
Spoletta, a police agent - Miroslav Dvorsky, Tenor
Sciarrone, a policeman - Jan Durco, Bass
Un Carceriere (Gaoler) - Stanislav Benačka, Bass
Il Sagrestano (Sacristan) - Jozef Spaček, Baritone

Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
Alexander Rahbari

 

Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca in 1858 into a family with long-established musical traditions extending back at least to the early eighteenth century. It was natural that he should follow this tradition and become a musician, and after the death of his father, when the boy was five, it was arranged that he should inherit the position of organist at the church of St. Martino, which meanwhile would be held for him by his uncle. He was trained as a chorister and as an organist, and only turned to more ambitious composition at the age of seventeen. A performance of Verdi's opera Aida in Pisa in 1876 inspired operatic aspirations, which could only be pursued adequately at a major musical centre. Four years later he was able to enter the conservatory in Milan, assisted financially by an uncle and by a scholarship. There his teachers were Antonio Bazzini, director of the conservatory from 1882 and now chiefly remembered by other violinists for one attractive addition to their repertoire, and Amilcare Ponchielli, then near the end of his career.

Puccini's first opera was Le villi, an operatic treatment of a subject better known nowadays from the ballet Giselle by Adam. It failed to win the competition for which it had been entered, but won, instead, a staging, through the agency of Boito, and publication by Ricordi, who commissioned the opera Edgar, produced at La Scala in 1889 to relatively little effect. It was in 1893 that Puccini won his first great success with his version of the Abbé Prévost's Manon Lescaut, a work that established him as a possible successor to Verdi. La Bohème followed in 1896.

Tosca, which was first staged in Rome in 1900, was based on a successful play by the French dramatist Victorien Sardou (1831-1908), a work designed as a vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt, as was much else that Sardou wrote. Ricordi had originally intended that the opera should be written by Alberto Franchetti, who enjoyed considerable fame in Italy at the time. By subterfuge Franchetti was dissuaded from the project by what Ricordi suggested to him of its unsuitability as a subject for opera, and the way was open for Puccini to undertake the composition, once La Bohème was out of the way. The libretto was by Giuseppe Illica and the poet Luigi Giacosa, writers who had collaborated with others on the text of Manon Lescaut and had written La Bohème, and were hereafter to continue working with Puccini with Madama Butterfly in 1904.

Tosca was first staged at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome with some success, in spite of threats of bombing at the first night, presumably because of the political and anticlerical implications of the plot, which is set in Rome. Critical opinion has been mixed. Mahler refused a performance at the Vienna Court Opera, leaving Zemlinsky to conduct the first Vienna performance at the Volksoper in 1907, while the scholar Joseph Kerman has described the piece as "a shabby little shocker".

 

Synopsis

The first scene of the opera is set in the Church of Sant' Andrea della Valle in Rome. On the right is the Attavanti Chapel and on the left a scaffolding with a large painting on it, covered with a cloth, with painter's brushes and colours and a basket on the platform. The republican nobleman Angelotti, who has escaped from prison, steals in and conceals himself in the family chapel. The Sacristan complains about the work made for him by the artist Cavaradossi, who now comes in and sets to work on his painting of St. Mary Magdalen, which, to the scandal of the old Sacristan, bears a close resemblance to a gentlewoman who comes each day to pray, the sister of Angelotti ("Sante ampalle") [Track 1]. Cavaradossi takes out a miniature of Tosca, at which he gazes, praising her beauty ("Recandita annania"), and comparing her with the subject of his portrait, while the Sacristan complains of this blasphemy. As he goes, the fugitive nobleman Angelotti emerges from hiding, eventually recognised by Cavaradossi, who quickly moves to shut the church door, giving him his own basket of food. As the voice of Tosca is heard outside ("Mario! Mario! Mario!") [2], he hurries Angelotti into hiding once more.

Tosca, a famous singer, is at first suspicious of Cavaradossi, since she has heard him talking to someone and had found the church door locked. She offers the flowers she has brought before the statue of the Madonna and turning to Cavaradossi urges him to meet her that evening after the theatre, so that they may go together to his little villa. She sings of this idyllic cottage ("Non la sospiri la nostra casetta") [3] and of their future happiness, but shows signs of jealousy when she sees the picture, with blue eyes, rather than a reproduction of her own black eyes ("Ah, quegli occhi!") [4].

As Tosca leaves, Cavaradossi reassures Angelotti, who has emerged again from hiding, praising Tosca's loyalty, although he has told her nothing. He agrees to help Angelotti escape with the disguise that his sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, has arranged for him, to help him evade the clutches of the wicked and hypocritical chief of police Baron Scarpia. The latter appears, with his henchman Spoletta, to interrupt public rejoicing at the defeat of Napoleon and to investigate the disappearance of Angelotti, whose sister he recognises in Cavaradossi's painting. He himself has designs on Tosca, and from the discovery of an empty food-basket and a fan bearing the Attavanti coat of arms in the Attavanti chapel he infers that Cavaradossi has assisted Angelotti's escape, with the help of the latter's sister. He resolves to use the fan, at least, to arouse Tosca's jealousy. People begin to crowd into the church and Scarpia signals to Spoletta, telling him to follow Tosca ("Tre sbirri, Una carrozza") [5]. The Cardinal and his attendants move towards the high altar, the Swiss Guards making a way for them through the crowd, while Scarpia gloats over his intended victim. He now has two desires, to see Angelotti hanged and to possess Tosca, his evil intentions in contrast to the Te Deum with which the choir now celebrates the victory over Napoleon.

The second act of the opera is set in Scarpia's rooms, on an upper floor. There is a table set and through the window of the apartment can be seen the courtyard of the palace. It is night, and Scarpia is taking his supper, while occasionally breaking off in thought. He looks at his watch impatiently and remarks out aloud on the usefulness of Tosca in leading him to his victims Angelotti and Cavaradossi ("Tosca è buon falco") [6]. He learns from his agent Sciarrone that Tosca has been sent for, as he ordered. From below, where the Queen of Naples is giving a ball to celebrate victory, comes the sound of music. Spoletta enters to tell him that Cavaradossi's villa has been searched, but nothing found: Cavaradossi, however, has been arrested and is interrogated by his captor. Tosca rushes in, anxious to help her lover, and is left with Scarpia when the latter orders Cavaradossi to be taken away and questioned in the adjacent torture-chamber. He shows her the fan, trying to excite her jealousy, and then bids her tell him what she knows ("Orsù, Tosca, parlate"). [7] When she refuses to reveal anything, he tells Spoletta to open the door, so that she may hear Cavaradossi's suffering. This convinces her, and she now admits that she knows the whereabouts of Angelotti ("Nel pozzo … nel giardino"), the well in the garden, where she had earlier followed her lover in jealousy.

Scarpia commands that Cavaradossi be brought in and the lovers greet each other ("Floria! … Amore!") [8]. She is appalled at his suffering and kneels by his side, in tears, while he realises that she has betrayed him and thrusts her away, as Sciarrone rushes in, excitedly announcing news of a new victory for Bonaparte. Cavaradossi greets the news with jubilation ("Vittoria! Vittoria!"), while Tosca tries to silence him, and Scarpia threatens execution. Cavaradossi is dragged away, to Tosca's protests, and she is left alone with Scarpia, who takes up his wine-glass, polishes it with a napkin and suggests that together they find a way to save the man. Tosca asks the cost ("Quanto? Quanto? Il prezzo") [9] and Scarpia demands her honour. She jumps up, aghast, and threatens to jump from the window if he cornes near her. Then she makes a move to appeal to the Queen, in the apartments below, but Scarpia makes it clear that such an appeal will be at the cost of Cavaradossi's life. She tells Scarpia that she hates him, but this arouses still further his desire for her. A drum-roll is heard, and he bids her look out of the window, to see prisoners being led to execution. She kneels in supplication, protesting her passionate devotion to her art and to virtue, doing harm to none ("Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore") [10]. Spoletta rushes in to announce the suicide of Angelotti and is told that, now with Tosca's nodded agreement, Cavaradossi is to pretend to be shot by the firing-squad, but allowed to escape. Spoletta understands very well that this ruse is designed to deceive Tosca and that Cavaradossi is actually to be executed. Scarpia gives his word ("lo tenni la promessa") [11] and Tosca seeks a safe-conduct for herself and her lover, which Scarpia starts to write, asking her which way they will travel. As he writes, Tosca sees a knife on the table, which she takes and hides behind her, and when Scarpia has finished writing and sealed the document, she stabs him. As he falls, he curses her, but she quickly prepares to leave the room, taking the safe-conduct with her, and leaving burning candles at Scarpia's head and a crucifix on the corpse.

The final act of the opera is set on a platform on the battlements of the Castel Sant' Angelo. There is a little staircase leading up to the platform and below there is a casemate, a room set in the wall of the fortress, with a table, a bench and a chair. In the distance can be seen the Vatican and St. Peter's. It is night, with stars shining in the clear sky. Sheep-bells can be heard and the voice of a shepherd-boy, singing his distant song of unrequited love ("lo de'sospiri"). [13] The matins bell rings and the bells of other churches, some distant, some near at hand. A gaoler, carrying a lantern, comes up the stairs into the room, lighting the lamp before the crucifix on the wall and another lamp on the table. He goes up to the parapet and looks down into the courtyard, where executions take place. He exchanges a few words with the sentry patrolling the battlements and then returns to the room and sits down, sleepy. Cavaradossi is brought onto the platform, escorted by soldiers and is ushered into the room. The gaoler stands and salutes the sergeant, who hands his prisoner over ("Mario Cavaradossi?"). [14] There is still an hour to go before the execution, but Cavaradossi rejects the offer of a priest, asking leave to write a last letter to Tosca, promising the man, in return, his last possession, his ring. He sits down and starts to write, but breaks off to reflect on his love for Tosca in happier times, as the stars shone, her sweet kisses and embraces and her beauty ("E lucevan le stele") [15] Spoletta comes up the stairs, with the sergeant, followed by Tosca. He tells the sentry to watch the couple, and leaves them together. Tosca, too full of feeling to speak, rushes over to Cavaradossi and gives him the safe-conduct she has taken from Scarpia. He reads the document ("Ah! Franchigia a Floria Tosca"), [16] a safe-conduct for Tosca and the gentleman who accompanies her. She goes on to explain what had been demanded of her in return and how she had killed Scarpia. He marvels that her gentle hands could be so strong ("O dolci mani") [17] and she tells him what she thinks has been arranged, with his mock-execution and their coming escape together. Cavaradossi tells her of his bitterness at having to die without seeing her again, but now they will be together. Returning to reality, she reminds him that he must be seen to fall when the firing-squad shoots, and as the soldiers approach, the two lovers sing of their coming joy and final triumph.

Dawn breaks and a bell is heard striking four, the hour of execution that Scarpia had set. The period of waiting is long ("Com'e lunga l'attesa") [18] and Tosca warns Cavaradossi once again to remember to fall down when the men fire. He takes leave of her and follows the officer, while she looks on, impatient. Cavaradossi refuses a bandage for his eyes and the ritual of execution proceeds slowly. The soldiers raise their guns and the signal is given. The men fire and Cavaradossi falls. The sergeant inspects the body and Spoletta prevents the sergeant from giving the coup de grace. The soldiers now withdraw and Tosca tells her lover to lie still and not move until all is safe. She looks over the parapet and goes back to him where he lies, telling him to stand up and make his escape ("Presto, su! Mario! Mario!"), [19] but to her horror she finds that he is really dead: Scarpia has outwitted her. She is in despair, and now cries are heard from a distance, as the murder of Scarpia is discovered and the alarm raised. Spoletta and Sciarrone mount the staircase to seize Tosca, but she pushes Spoletta, so that he nearly falls backwards down the stairs. She rushes to the battlements and leaps over to her death, now to meet Scarpia again before the throne of God. Sciarrone and some of the soldiers rush to the battlements and look down, while Spoletta stands aghast.

 

Keith Anderson


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