• Tosca : Around the opera

    Sometimes, an operatic masterpiece is based on a literary or theatrical masterpiece.

    This is not the case of Tosca.

    The source material was Victorien Sardou's play of the same name. Neither Tosca nor any of the many others works by Sardou have survived the trial of time. However, back in the 1880s and 1890s they were pretty successful, performed by luminaries like Sarah Bernhardt.


    Sarah Bernhardt as Tosca


    The main roles are exactly those of the opera: Cesare Angelotti, Mario Cavaradossi, Vitellio Scarpia and the diva Floria Tosca. The events are also pretty much the same. The main difference, of course, is Puccini's music, along with some intelligent changes by librettist Illica and Giacosa, primarily to tighten the action by removing some characters, and most of the political motivations, that are relegated to provide the background for the drama. Typical of Puccini and the librettists meticulous research, they moved the First Act location from the Church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale to the opera's Sant'Andrea della Valle, because in the last one there was a legitimate hiding place for Angelotti.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Tosca : Around the opera started by Schigolch View original post
    Comments 15 Comments
    1. Amfortas's Avatar
      Amfortas -
      Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
      Typical of Puccini and the librettists meticulous research, they moved the First Act location from the Church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale to the opera's Sant'Andrea della Valle, because in the last one there was a legitimate hiding place for Angelotti.
      "Quite possibly . . . Sardou got the two churches confused, not only because his description of the First Act set more nearly fits Sant'Andrea della Valle, but because he seems to assume its more central location in the way he envisages the comings and goings of his characters around Rome." -W. Laird Kleine-Ahlbrandt, La Tosca (The Drama Behind the Opera).
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Tosca was hugely succesful from the first performances. In a few years, the opera had been performed all around the globe. Let's look just how quickly:

      1900: Rome (premiere), Milan, London, Constantinople, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid

      1901: Odessa, Lisbon, New York, Mexico, Santiago de Chile

      1902: Bucarest, Dresden,

      1903: Paris, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Tunis

      1904: Stockholm, Bruxelles, Graz

      1905: New Orleans, Helsinki, Venice, Moscow, St. Petersburg

      1906: Geneve

      1907: Berlin, Vienna

      1909: Liverpool

      1910: Copenhaguen

      1911: Zagreb, Riga


      Today, Tosca is still one of the most performed operas worlwide, with more than 500 performances last year, the second Puccini's opera with more performances, after La Bohème.
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Many sopranos and tenors, and even some baritones, have performed encores of Tosca's numbers since 1900. But perhaps the more impressive series of encores documented was from Spanish tenor Miguel Fleta, that had to sing "E lucevan le stelle" up to four times in a row, singing in Vienna, in the 1920s:

    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      This is the English translation of Sardou's Tosca, by Deborah Burton:

      http://www.toscasprism.com/LaToscaACTI.pdf
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      It seems a couple of divas were the main source for the creation of the Floria Tosca character.

      The first one was Angelica Catalani.



      Blessed with an incredible voice she was singing since she was just fifteen years old, and was succesful in Italy, England, France, Sweden,...

      The second one was a less gifted singer, but more attractive and adventorous woman, Giuseppina Grassini:



      Lover of both Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington (not at the same time, though ).
    1. Amfortas's Avatar
      Amfortas -
      Another possible model was Maria (or Marietta) Marcolini, a pretty young Florentine contralto who created five Rossini roles: Ernestina in L'equivoco stravagante, Ciro in Babilonia, Clarice in La pietra del paragone, Isabella in L'italiana in Algeri, and the title role in Sigismondo.

      She began her career in Venice at the age of twenty, in 1800 (the year of the events of Tosca). Like Tosca, she sang in Naples, at La Scala in Milan, and at the Argentina theater in Rome. At least one source describes her as a Veronese, like Tosca, and also like Tosca she was a foundling.

    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Just looking at the different portraits, I think Catalani and Grassini are more likely candidates to be the inspiration for the beautiful Floria...
    1. Amfortas's Avatar
      Amfortas -
      Susan Nicassio, in Tosca's Rome: The Play and the Opera in Historical Perspective, suggests that Sardou borrowed hints from several different singers. Many features of his play seemed based on various bits and pieces of historical background.

      But I won't disagree with you about which of those singers are the most attractive.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Here are some interesting facts and legends around Puccini's opera Tosca :

      ------------

      Puccini seems to have forced his way into the rights to set Sardou's play to music. He had asked his publisher Ricordi to get it done, but he failed to do so, and the rights were granted to Franchietti. Puccini did not give up, and a couple of operas later (after he had finished Manon and La Bohème) he tried again, this time dispatching his honchos to talk to Franchietti (Illica his librettist and Ricordi himself) and convince him that the project was ill-conceived and an opera about rape, torture, and execution that addressed local politics was too much for the taste of the Roman audiences. Poor Franchietti let himself be convinced and relinquished his rights. Puccini jumped on it immediately and the next day secured a contract with Sardou.

      --------------

      First night reception: it was a great success with the local public (proving that Franchietti was indeed fooled). "E lucevan le stelle" was encored during the show, and Puccini was called six times to take bows during the curtain calls. The press however was indeed scandalized and Joseph Kerman, musicologist, called it "a shabby little shocker." The opera ran for 20 evenings to packed houses. Later that same year Toscanini conducted acclaimed performances of the opera in Milan, solidifying its good start.

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      The cast for the world premiere in Rome had Hariclea Darclée as Tosca, Emilio de Marchi as Cavaradossi, and Eugenio Giraldoni as Scarpia. The conductor was Leopoldo Mugnone. The Toscanini performances in Milan that soon followed, had basically the same singers except that Cavaradossi in Milan was Giuseppe Borgatti.

      ---------------

      Tosca's raise to fame was fast. It was given abroad almost immediately after its initial success in Rome and Milan - it had its Buenos Aires debut in June of the same year, followed by a London premiere at Covent Garden on July 12. The New York City premiere happened a few months later on February 4, 1901.

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      When Puccini first read Sardou's play, he immediately fell in love with the story. In a letter to Giulio Ricordi, his publisher, in May of 1889, he wrote the following: "In this Tosca I see the opera that I need: one without excessive proportions or a decorative spectacle; nor is it the kind that calls for a super-abundance of music [by which he meant, no need for Grand-Opéra style à la Meyerbeer])." His impression from merely reading the play was greatly enhanced once he saw it live on stage, in Florence, in 1895, with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role.

      ---------------

      Puccini's second librettist for Tosca, Giusepe Giacosa (in addition to Luigi Illica) threatened to drop out of the project several times, since in his opinion the play had "too much plot" and "too little room for lyrical expansion."

      ----------------

      Puccini submitted the libretto to Sardou, the author of the stage play, when he visited him in Paris in June of 1898. Sardou made various suggestions but gave his blessing to the libretto. Puccini's opinion of Sardou after that encounter was that he was "a fine fellow, all life and fire" but "full of historico-topo-panoramic inexactitudes."

      ----------------

      Puccini rejected an aria in the libretto that was supposed to be sung by Cavaradossi under torture in act II, saying that it reverted to the static pezzo concertato convention of a bygone era. He also cut off another aria for Cavaradossi that was to be a farewell to art and life as he awaited execution, in spite of the fact that none less than Giuseppe Verdi expressed great admiration for this aria. His librettists were dismayed by these requested cuts, but after long argumentation, Puccini had his way.

      -----------------

      Giulio Ricordi wasn't happy with act III. He complained to Puccini that there wasn't a transcendental love duet in act III, saying that one should be provided to function as the climax of the drama. He thought that the existing dialogue between the lovers was intolerably perfunctory. Puccini stood his grounds, arguing that Tosca would be far too preocuppied with her dangerous game, having just murdered Scarpia which might be discovered anytime before her having a chance to save her lover, and wouldn't be in the mood for this time-wasting effusion.

      ---------------

      Puccini admitted to the fact that he expressed some sadism in his operas, particularly in Tosca. The composer named his sadistic streak, his "Neronic inclinations."

      ---------------

      There are two funny stories about Tosca performances that are most likely urban legends. While we can't guarantee that they ever happened, they are entertaining enough to be reproduced here.

      The first one supposedly happened in Buenos Aires in a performance conducted by Erich Kleiber. Apparently the theater ran out of extras and did not have guards who were supposed to chase Tosca when she climbs the Castel Sant'Angelo's battlements in preparation for her suicide. The stage director rushed during the performance to a bar around the corner and enrolled five volunteers. He got them under make-up and costumes and rushed them into the stage as Tosca was already weeping around Mario's corpse. The director told the five lads - "follow that woman" and as Tosca rushed to the battlements they surely enough chased after her. She jumped, and all five jumped as well. The veracity of this story, however, is put in question by the fact that sometimes it is also told as having happened in San Francisco, instead of Buenos Aires.

      The other story is about a soprano (her name keeps changing as the tale is told) who was a pain in the neck and kept whining about the pads that were supposed to cushion her fall from the castle's battlements. At one point the stagehands couldn't put up with the annoying prima donna any longer, and substituted the pads with a particularly springy trampoline. As Tosca sang her final words and jumped off, the audience was treated to her bouncing back into full view, several times. This is supposed to have happened in New York City, in 1960 (true or not, we don't know).

      ---------------

      The two librettists complained that Puccini went fishing and hunting repeatedly, while they slaved over revisions.

      ----------------

      Tosca is the most recorded of Puccini's operas. It was recorded eleven times in mono before the stereo technology became available. The Operadis database lists 250 recordings up to 2009 when it stopped being updated (there's been a few more ever since).

      ----------------

      Soprano Maria Jeritza was dress-rehearsing for a revival of Tosca in Vienna in 1914, in the presence of Puccini himself. She tripped and fell, and sang "Vissi d'arte" in a lying position. Puccini loved it, and said he had in his mind when composing the aria that it should be sung in a lying position.

      ------------------

      Eva Marton was considered to be a particularly fearsome Tosca. Her explosive performances had her Scarpia counterparts almost in a state of fear.

      ------------------

      Many fans consider that the Tosca performed by Maria Callas at Covent Garden was the supreme interpretation of the role and impossible to surpass. It is partially preserved (act II) in a film made at Covent Garden with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia. In this production, Maria was told to keep gestures and glances to a minimum, yet she still managed to look spontaneous and captivating.

      -------------------

      The preferred actress for the stage play Tosca by Victorien Sardou which is the base for the libretto, was the famous Sarah Bernhardt, for whom the role was written.

      ------------------

      Lotte Lehmann had an important role in popularizing Tosca in German-speaking countries.

      ------------------

      Puccini's preferred soprano for his Tosca was Maria Jeritza. When he first saw her performing the role, he gave his seal of approval to her concept. According to those who knew Jeritza first-hand, she was both queenly and volcanic in her real-life temperament, which must have assisted her in performing the role. Her voice was said to be strong and sensuous.

      -------------------

      In Sardou's play, the characterTosca was a former shepherd girl. She was said to have been brought up by Benedictine nuns and to have studied singing with the famous maestro Domenico Cimarosa. In the play, the singer is ignorant and simple, while in the opera she acquires a more sophisticated stance as a woman of the theater, gifted with intelligence and dignity.

      --------------------

      Beniamino Gigli was regarded during his time as the finest Cavaradossi.

      --------------------

      The Bregenz Festival 2007 staging of Tosca in their beautiful open-air lake setting featured a giant eye 160 feet wide and 100 feet high to symbolize the police chief's surveillance apparatus. It could be turned, opened, and rotated.

      --------------------

      Puccini's use of leitmotifs in Tosca was confessedly inspired by his admiration for Wagner. However he preferred not to develop and modify the leitmotifs, because he was afraid they would drown his most melodious arias. Still, he allowed Scarpia's leitmotif to be heard during the gentle bickering of the two lovers in Act I, in a foreboding device to anticipate the doom that was about to strike them. In his attempts to emulate Wagner's musical structure a little bit, Puccini was hindered by the fact that both his teachers were determined anti-Wagnerians, and so was Giulio Ricordi, his publisher. It is speculated that Puccini was supposed to win the Sonzogno prize for his Le Villi, but was passed over exactly because of his reputation of being a Wagner admirer.

      ---------------------

      Tosca is considered by many scholars to be Puccini's most complex and challenging female role.

      ---------------------

      References:

      The Grove Book of Operas, Stanley Sadie and Laura Macy (editors)
      The Rough Guide to Opera, Matthew Boyden
      A Night at the Opera, Denis Forman
      Opera - Composers, Works, Performers, András Batta
      The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Opera, Stanley Sadie (editors)
    1. Sopra's Avatar
      Sopra -
      Franco Corelli as Mario in Tosca, "E lucevan le stelle." His voice, drama and the setting in this video makes me swoon.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zzb9uwfgD1w
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sopra View Post
      Franco Corelli as Mario in Tosca, "E lucevan le stelle." His voice, drama and the setting in this video makes me swoon.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zzb9uwfgD1w
      Welcome to Opera Lively, Sopra!
    1. Floria's Avatar
      Floria -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sopra View Post
      Franco Corelli as Mario in Tosca, "E lucevan le stelle." His voice, drama and the setting in this video makes me swoon.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zzb9uwfgD1w
      Welcome Sopra !
    1. Sopra's Avatar
      Sopra -
      Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
      Welcome to Opera Lively, Sopra!
      Thank you Luiz. It is good to be among friends of opera. Sopra
    1. Sopra's Avatar
      Sopra -
      Quote Originally Posted by Floria View Post
      Welcome Sopra !
      Thank you Floria. It is good to be among friends of opera. Sopra
    1. Florestan's Avatar
      Florestan -
      I was generally inclined to only get into operas with happy endings (Cenerentola, Sonnambula, Fidelio, etc.) but my intense activity getting into the works of Maria Callas brought me face to face with Tosca and once I learned the story I loved it. I would only wish that the prisoner didn't die and that Tosca and Mario got away in the end, but it is what it is. The 1964 Callas video of Act II is fabulous, the stabbing superbly done. I liked the stabbing so much and her clever comment that I had to make it my signature. Ah, don't really like to see people die, but at least this one was bloodless in the performance, so in relatively good taste. I will be thinking of getting an entire Tosca DVD but am wary of anything new. I wonder if there are older ones that are bloodless.


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