About this Recording
8.660001-02 - PUCCINI: Tosca
English 

Giacomo Puccini (1858 -1924)
Tosca

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
Angelotti, Consul of the Roman Republic - Andrea Piccinni, bass
Spoletta, a police agent - Miroslav Dvorsky, tenor
Sciarrone, a policeman - Jan Durco, baritone
Un carceriere (Gaoler) - Stanislav Benacka, bass
Il Sagrestano (Sacristan) - Jozef Spacek, baritone

Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari, conductor

 

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 Abbe Prevost'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 to continue working with Puccini with Madama Butterfly in 1904.

Work continued on the opera from 1896, with the score virtually complete by the end of September 1899. Giacosa, whose task was to versify Illica's libretto, had found the subject unoperatic, and Puccini too had had earlier misgivings, after seeing a performance of Sardou's La Tosca by Sarah Bernhardt, when the operatic project was in its infancy. It was decided that the opera should be staged first at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. Milan had its dangers, since the supporters of Franchetti would hardly have allowed the work to succeed without barracking, and Rome, after all, was the scene of the opera, although its anti-clerical undertones might have seemed dangerously inept. In fact there were threats of bombing at the first night on 14 January 1900, and disturbance caused by late-comers persuaded the nervous conductor Mugnone to leave the pit near the start of Act I, so that the opera had to be started again, when all was relatively quiet. In spite of an uneven first performance Tosca was coolly welcomed by critics, but audiences were increasingly enthusiastic, ensuring the wider success of the opera in the houses of North Italy. In July Tosca was staged at Covent Garden in London and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York the following February. Parisian critics proved hostile, while Mahler refused the work a staging at the Hofoper in Vienna, where Zemlinsky conducted the first performance in 1907 at the Volksoper. Puccini's opera has continued in popular repertoire, in spite of the critical verdict summed up in Joseph Kerman's description of the piece as "a shabby little shocker." Whatever critical controversy may still surround the work, the verdict of the public has been unequivocal, while the music itself has proved a vehicle for some of the greatest singers.

 

Synopsis

Act l

The opera opens in the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome [CD 1/Track 1]. On the right is the Attavanti Chapel and on the left a scaffold with a large painting on it, covered with a cloth, with painter's brushes and colours and a basket on the platform. The orchestra plays three sinister chords, symbols of the villainous Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia. Angelotti, in prison clothes, enters, exhausted and fearful, making his escape. He looks around, thinking at last that he has found safety, as he sees the column with its stoup of holy water and statue of the Madonna, where his sister has told him she has left the key to the Attavanti Chapel, which he now unlocks and enters, in trepidation, fearing that he may have been followed. The sacristan now appears, carrying a bundle of paint-brushes and talking to himself [1/2], complaining about the work the painter gives him, cleaning the place, and surprised when he finds the painter Cavaradossi not there. He climbs onto the platform and looks into the painter's basket, but finds nothing has been touched.

The Angelus sounds and the sacristan kneels in prayer, as Cavaradossi comes in and climbs onto the platform, unveiling his painting of Mary Magdalene. The sacristan rises and exclaims out aloud when he sees the painting, which he recognises as that of a gentle lady who comes each day to pray. Cavaradossi praises her beauty, at which the sacristan is scandalised. The painter starts work, while the sacristan busies himself cleaning the brushes. Cavaradossi then takes from his pocket a miniature, at which he gazes, comparing it with the painting, to which his dark-haired Tosca offers a contrast yet a resemblance [1/3]. The sacristan continues to complain at what he regards as the artist's disrespect for religion, before taking his leave. Angelotti now emerges from hiding, takes alarm at first, but then recognises Cavaradossi [1/4]. Eventually the painter realises the identity of the intruder, and quickly climbs down from the scaffolding and shuts the side door to the church. The voice of Tosca is heard calling from outside. Cavaradossi gives Angelotti his basket of food and hurries him into the chapel, as Tosca enters [1/5].

At first Tosca is suspicious of Cavaradossi, since she has heard him talking to someone, and has 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 and to go together to his little villa. She sings of this idyllic cottage [1/6] and their future happiness, and he submits. Then, looking over his shoulder anxiously, he tells her to go, while he continues his work [1/7]. She turns to leave, but then sees the painting and seems to recognise the subject, a woman she has seen before and now recalls as the Marchesa Attavanti. She is jealous of this possible rival, but Cavaradossi calms her fears [1/8], assuring her that no beauty can compare with hers. Tosca would be happier were the Magdalene to have black eyes like her own rather than blue.

As Tosca leaves, Cavaradossi goes to the chapel where Angelotti is hiding [1/9] and opens the gate for him. They shake hands and the ar1ist explains that Tosca is loyal and true, but will tell all in the confessional. For this reason he has not confided in her. Angelotti explains how his sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, has prepared to help him escape over the border by leaving a disguise for him, and Cavaradossi tells him how moved he has been at her appearance each day at the statue of the Madonna. She has striven to save her brother from the machinations of the wicked Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia, a man that Cavaradossi also detests, hypocritical in his pretence of religion. The painter agrees to help him escape in woman's disguise and tells him to wait in the garden, where he will later meet him. At the same time he tells him of a place to hide, if need be, at the end of a secret passage in the wall of the garden-well. The sound of the cannon is heard, signal that Angelotti's escape has been discovered. They leave the chapel together.

The sacristan rushes in and is surprised to find that Cavaradossi is not there, as he had hoped to alarm the heretic with bad news for him. [1/10] Priests, acolytes and singers of the choir crowd noisily in, and the sacristan tells them his good news, that Napoleon has been defeated, an event for general rejoicing and bringing extra work and extra money for the singers, who are doubly delighted. When the tumult is at its height, Scarpia unexpectedly enters and all immediately fall silent [1/11] as he upbraids them for such sacrilegious behaviour and sends them about their business. He detains the sacristan for further questioning and tells his henchman Spoletta to search the building thoroughly for any sign of the fugitive Angelotti. Scarpia finds the Attavanti Chapel open, and entering discovers there only a fan, which seems to Scarpia to indicate the connivance of some accomplice. Finding on it the coat of arms of the Attavanti family, he now suspects the Marchesa Attavanti, and he is still further struck when he sees the portrait of the Magdalene, in which he recognises the features of the Marchesa. That the painter is Cavaradossi, as the sacristan tells him, can only deepen his suspicions. One of Scarpia's men now comes out of the chapel carrying the basket, now empty, a sure sign of the painter's involvement, as he infers from the sacristan's account of the matter. The food must have been given to Angelotti.

Tosca comes in, agitated [1/12], and Scarpia hides behind the column, plotting to use the fan as lago used Desdemona's handkerchief, to excite a lover's jealousy, since he too has designs on Tosca. The sacristan, trembling, tells Tosca that Cavaradossi has disappeared, and she at once supposes him untrue. Scarpia emerges from hiding, offers Tosca holy water, and praises her beauty and goodness, in contrast to women who come to church only for assignations with their lovers. He looks pointedly at the portrait and shows her the fan, immediately prompting a renewal of her jealousy. He consoles her, as she leaves, intent on interrupting the supposed meeting between the Marchesa Attavanti and her Cavaradossi.

People begin to crowd into the church, and Scarpia signals to Spoletta, telling him to follow Tosca [1/13]. The Cardinal and his attendants move towards the high altar, the Swiss Guards making way for them through the crowd, while Scarpia gloats over his victim. Scarpia now has two desires, to see Angelotti hanged and to possess Tosca, his evil desires in contrast to the Te Deum with which the choir now celebrates victory over Napoleon.

 

Act II

[2/1] The second act opens 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, and 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. He rings a bell and the police agent Sciarrone comes in and in response to Scarpia's enquiry tells him he has had Tosca sent for. He opens the window and the sound of music is heard from the lower floor, where the Queen of Naples is giving a ball to celebrate the recent victory, an event at which Tosca is to sing. He gives Sciarrone a note to make certain that Tosca will come to him, in order to save her beloved Cavaradossi. He sings of his lack of romantic charm and his desire for power. Sciarrone returns and announces Spoletta [2/2], who explains how he and his men have shadowed Tosca to Cavaradossi's villa, where they found nothing. Scarpia is angry at this failure to capture Angelotti, but is slightly mollified when Spoletta tells him that he has arrested Cavaradossi, who surely knows where Angelotti is. Scarpia paces the room, and then through the window is heard the victory cantata [2/3]. This means that Tosca has arrived. Scarpia prepares to examine Cavaradossi, in the presence of the executioner Roberti and the judge and his clerk.

Scarpia bids Cavaradossi be seated, but he indignantly refuses. As the interrogation proceeds, the sound of the choir below is heard, with the voice of Tosca. In irritation Scarpia shuts the window, and demands to know the whereabouts of Angelotti [2/4]. Cavaradossi claims ignorance and denies having helped the fugitive. Scarpia tries gentler tactics, wheedling and threatening. Tosca enters, anxious, and rushes to embrace Cavaradossi, who tells her to divulge nothing of what she has seen. Scarpia hands Cavaradossi over to the executioner and judge for questioning in the adjacent torture-chamber, himself remaining alone with Tosca [2/5]. Now, he says, let us talk, and proceeds to question Tosca, using the fan discovered in the chapel as a means to arouse her jealousy. He calls to Sciarrone, who reports that the prisoner has admitted nothing, and then turns back to Tosca and explains the torture that her lover is undergoing in the next room. A prolonged groan is heard, and Tosca, in increasing agitation, begs for mercy and calls out to her lover, who tells her to be brave and keep silent. Scarpia tells her to speak [2/6] and when she refuses bids Roberti continue the torture, to Tosca's increasing horror. When she still refuses to tell anything of what she knows, Scarpia tells Spoletta to open the door to let her hear her lover's groans and tells him to intensify the torture. Eventually, when she sees what is happening to Cavaradossi, she gives way, in spite of her lover's protestations [2/7] and admits that she knows the whereabouts of Angelotti, the well in the garden, where she had earlier followed her lover in jealousy.

Scarpia commands that Cavaradossi be brought in [2/8] and Tosca, appalled at what he has suffered, kneels by his side, in tears. He realises, however, that Tosca has betrayed him and thrusts her from him, as Sciarrone rushes in, excitedly announcing news of a new victory for Bonaparte. Cavaradossi greets the news with jubilation [2/9], 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 calmly takes up his wine-glass, polishes it with a napkin and suggests that together they find a way to save Cavaradossi. Tosca asks the cost [2/10] and Scarpia demands her honour. She jumps up, aghast, and threatens to jump from the window if he comes near her. Then she makes a move to appeal to the Queen, in the apartments below, but carpia 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 [2/11] and Scarpia bids Tosca look out of the window to see the prisoners being led to execution. He watches her coldly, as she passionately declares her devotion to art and goodness [2/12]. She kneels in supplication to Scarpia [2/13] and begs for mercy for her lover, but Scarpia remains determined. Spoletta rushes in to announce that Angelotti has poisoned himself, before he could be captured, and Scarpia commands that his body be hung on the gallows. Spoletta seeks orders for the treatment of Cavaradossi, and Scarpia allows Tosca a moment to make her decision. She nods assent, and Scarpia goes on to propose his plan. Cavaradossi is to appear to be shot, in the same way as Count Palmieri, but not with real shot. Spoletta understands his true instructions well enough, but Tosca is deceived into believing that Cavaradossi will really be allowed to live. Spoletta leaves to carry out his orders, and Tosca seeks a safe-conduct for herself and Cavaradossi, a request to which Scarpia readily assents and he goes to his desk and begins to write [2/14], breaking off to ask Tosca which road they will take. As he writes, Tosca approaches the table, and sees a knife, which she takes and hides behind her. Scarpia finishes writing, adds his seal to the document and seeks to embrace her [2/15], but she raises the knife and stabs him full in the chest. He curses her, as he falls, and she taunts him, as he lies dying. She then goes to the table and takes water to wash her hands, and straightens her hair before the glass. Searching for the safe-conduct, she finds it clenched in Scarpia's fist, takes it, and is about to leave, when she turns back and takes two candle sticks, standing on a side-table, and lights them from the central candelabra, which she extinguishes. She places the candles at Scarpia's head, takes a crucifix from the wall and places it on the corpse. A distant roll of drums is heard, as she makes way quietly out of the apartment.

 

Act III

[2/16] The third act is set on a platform on the battlements of the Castel Sant' Angelo. Below the little staircase that leads to the platform there is a casemate, a room set in the wall of the fortress, with a table, bench and chair. On the table there is a lamp, writing materials and a large register. There is a crucifix on one of the walls, with a lamp beneath it. In the distance can be seen the Vatican and St. Peter's. It is night, with a clear sky, in which the stars shine brightly. Sheep-bells can be heard [2/17] and the voice of a shepherd-boy, singing his distant song of love unrequited. The matins bell rings and the bells of other churches are heard, some distant, some near at hand. A gaoler, carrying a lantern, comes up the stairs and into the room, lighting the lamp before the crucifix and the 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 brought into the room. The gaoler stands and salutes the sergeant, who hands his prisoner over [2/18]. There is still an hour to go, before the execution, but Cavaradossi rejects the offer of a priest, but asks leave to write a last letter to Tosca, promising the man his last possession, his ring. Cavaradossi sits down and starts to write, but breaks off to reflect on his love for Tosca in happier times [2/19].

Spoletta comes up the stairs, with the sergeant, and 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 [2/20]. She goes on to explain what Scarpia demanded in return [2/21] and how she had killed him. Cavaradossi marvels that such gentle hands could be so strong [2/22]. She then reveals to him her plan [2/23] and the mock execution that she thinks Scarpia has ordered, after which they can escape together. Cavaradossi tenderly tells her of the bitterness he felt at dying without seeing her [2/24], but now they will be together. Returning to reality, Tosca warns Cavaradossi to fall down when the firing-squad shoots, and as the soldiers of the firing-squad 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. Tosca warns Cavaradossi once again to remember to fall when the men fire. He takes leave of her, and follows the officer, while she looks on, impatient [2/25]. Cavaradossi refuses a bandage for his eyes and the ritual of execution proceeds slowly. The soldiers raise their guns and the officer gives the signal. 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 to move until it is safe. She looks over the parapet and goes back to him where he lies, [2/26] telling him to stand up and make his escape, but to her horror finds that he is really dead: Scarpia has outwitted her. Tosca 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, as the curtain falls.

 

Keith Anderson


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