Musings on Tosca

Tosca partituurI am a great Puccini admirer. His music goes straight to my heart to never leave it again. I love all his operas and all his heroines are equally dear to me. I love Angelica and Cio-Cio-San very much and after they die I keep crying for hours. But none of them compare to Tosca. The story is so incredibly complex and so ingeniously constructed that I – even if I can really dream the opera! – discover something new in it everytime I listen to it.

Have you noticed that Puccini has no (big) roles for  mezzos? For the sake of convenience, I do not count Edgar. After all, that was not yet a ‘real Puccini’. I think the reason is his women are anything but one-dimensional. They are strong and vulnerable at the same time, neither good nor bad. Cio-Cio-San was a geisha, Suor Angelica had an illegitimate child, Mimi had loose relationships. And yet we love them, all of them, even the fickle Manon Lescaut and their death makes us grab our handkerchiefs.

The ‘Puccini baritones’ are friendliness itself: the sweet and helpful Marcello, the compassionate consul Sharpless. Even the sheriff Jack Rance plays fair and after a lost game of poker he lets his rival go.

Tosca 1907

There is one exception: Baron Scarpia. From the beginning he dominates the stage in the literal and figurative sense. He is the one who has worked out the whole scenario and worked it out down to the smallest details. He is the hunter, who will not shy away from any means to catch his prey. He is the devil, afraid of nothing and no one; and in order to get what he wants he is prepared to cheat. But beware: he is totally repulsive, but also an attractive, charming, erudite and intelligent man and therefore an extremely dangerous opponent.

Tosca Giraldoni+as+Scarpia

First Scarpia: Eugenio Giraldoni


Floria Tosca is a celebrated singer, a diva. Beautiful, seductive, feminine and famous; coveted by many men. She is in a relationship with a young painter, Mario Cavaradossi.

Tosca hericlee-darclee-din-arhiva-teatrului-solis

The first Tosca: Hariclée Darclée

Their relationship is passionate, but do they really love each other? Tosca is at the height of her career, so not so young anymore. She has already had many lovers and realizes that Mario might be the last one. That makes her extremely jealous.

Tosca DeMarchiTosca

For Cavaradossi, a relationship with a famous diva is something to be proud of. He is, which doesn’t stop him from looking at other ladies and admiring their beauty. He flirts a bit with the revolution, trying to make himself important by offering a hiding place to a real revolutionary. What an easy prey for our hunter!


The Te Deum scene which concludes act 1; Scarpia stands at left. Photograph of a pre-1914 production at the old Metropolitan Opera House

Scarpia is responsible for the detection of republicans. Angelotti, ex consul of the Roman Republic nevertheless manages to escape and all traces lead to a church, where our painter is at work. However, neither Angelotti nor Cavaradossi is present: an empty bread bin and doors which are open. Scarpia gratefully uses Tosca’s jealousy in the (justified) assumption that she could lead him to Angelotti’s hiding place. Moreover, he has been following the diva for some time now: he would love to spend a night with her. He has Cavaradossi tortured and in the meantime he is busy seducing Tosca.


Antonio Scotti as Scarpia

The exchange he offers her (Mario’s life for sexual favors) doesn’t surprise us. We have experienced this before in opera. But the finale, it’s so different! Most sopranos in the same situation commit suicide (Gioconda, Leonora ‘Trovatore’), or give in (Maddalena). Not our diva! She fights, prays, begs and behaves like a locked up tiger, to finally kill Scarpia with his own bread knife. What does she think she can achieve with this? The murder of the important man is soon discovered and then neither she nor her boyfriend (whom she still thinks she can set free) is safe anymore. Even a not very intelligent diva can think of that. What drives her? Well: Tosca is afraid of her own emotions!


Tosca reverently lays a crucifix on Scarpia’s body. Photograph of a pre-1914 production at the old Metropolitan Opera House, New York

Remember how attractive Scarpia is? Even Tosca is not insensitive to him and that frightens her to a great extent. To escape Scarpia’s erotic appeal, she must kill him. Only then can she be truly free. She rushes to the Castle of the Holy Angel where her lover is imprisoned, tells him what she had done and that they are free. There remains one little thing: a ‘mock execution’.


Unfortunately, Scarpia had never intended to pay Tosca for the night and Mario is actually killed. Only then does Tosca realize that Scarpia had surpassed herself in acting. And she can’t forgive him: “O Scarpia, avanti a Dio! (“O Scarpia, to God!”) are her last words.


There are thousands of ‘Toscas’ on the market. I will certainly not discuss them, too much, too many really good ones. Go and listen to Rosa Ponselle, Rosa Raisa, Mafalda Favero, Maria Caniglia, Magda Olivero, Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, Zinka Milanov, Eleanor Steber, Leyla Gencer, Leontyne Price, Montserrat Cabbalè, Renata Scotto, Raina Kabaivanska, Régine Crespin … They are all excellent, each in their own way, as it should be with a real diva. But – for me – no one beats Sara Scuderi:

In Dutch:
Mijmeringen over Tosca

Translated with

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