"Ah! Morto! Morto!"
She knelt by the bullet-riddled body, weeping uncontrollably.
"O Mario . . . morto . . . tu . . ."
The firing squad had marched off, leaving her alone with her fallen lover.
"Così. . . . Finire così!"
As she paused in her lament, she placed her mouth close to his ear and whispered:
"Remember this, bastardo?"
She gave his behind a playful squeeze, so the audience couldn't see. In rehearsals, it always sent him into hysterical giggles, and they would end up rolling on the stage floor in each other's arms.
"Così? . . . Povera Floria tua!"
But she had tried that trick once too often. This time he managed to maintain his composure. She knew she was wicked to do it during a performance, and he would spank her for it later, back in his hotel room. She would make sure he did.
Not that any of it mattered, of course. Not after tonight.
Confused voices sang offstage.
"Ah!" . . . "Vi dico pugnalato!" . . . "Scarpia?" . . . "Scarpia."
That was her cue. Francesca rose and made her way upstage, preparing for her final plunge. The voices were closer now.
"La donna è Tosca!"
In a moment they would enter from stage left, pursuing her. Only a few more seconds left. And then, nothing would ever be the same.
"Che non sfugga!"
Already in her brief career, Francesca Crivelli had been hailed as the greatest Tosca of her generation, perhaps the best since Callas. But after tonight, that was all over. The driving ambition, the international opera scene, the constant grind of travel. She would give it all up—she and Marcello--for love.
How many people would be made unhappy by her choice? Her mother, no doubt. And her sweet little old voice teacher. Her agent would never understand. Of course not—she was his meal ticket. But she was tired of living for others. Vissi d'arte? Fine, for a while. But in the end, she wanted to look back and say, "vissi d'amore."
Spoletta and Sciarrone made their entrance right on cue, pointing up at her.
"Attenti agli sbocchi delle scale!"
Horns and strings collided; the orchestra was out of synch, as usual. All because of the maestro, that senile, surly old taskmaster. Good riddance to him as well. And to that fat slob of a Scarpia who groped her throughout the second act.
Climbing the stairs, she stole a glance out at the house. Somewhere out there, in that darkness, Marcello's jealous wife sat watching. That bitch would be furious when she found out he was leaving her. But there was nothing she could do about it.
She reached the top of the angular, transparent tower. How she hated these eccentric "regie" directors. This one wanted her fall to be spectacular, breathtaking. But it was also dangerous. Earlier today she had noticed the padded mats down below weren't in their proper place--she would just miss them. Naturally, she had thrown a huge fit about it. But that strange, silent stagehand who always made her uneasy had merely nodded and walked away.
Now, looking down, she couldn’t see anything below her. All was dark backstage. Had the mats been positioned properly?
Spoletta bleated out his impotent threat:
"Ah! Tosca, pagherai ben cara la sua vita!"
Still unsettled about the mats, she called back by rote.
Something wasn't right. This wasn't as they had rehearsed it. But she couldn't worry about that now. Her cue had come. She turned and cried out her defiance:
"O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!"
The music surged. Summoning her courage, she flung herself into the void . . .
* * *
As the final chords blared, the audience erupted in applause. The curtain came down, and all was sudden bustle behind the scenes.
Francesca, rearranging her dress, made her way to center stage.
"OK, I was a naughty girl. I apologize. Now get up." She smiled, giving him a playful kick.
But Marcello didn't move. She looked at him more closely. Along with all the stage blood covering his shirt, something thicker, deeper, darker seeped out of a very real hole in his chest.
"Oh no! Oh Dio!"
She flung herself over him, trying to will him back to life.
The curtain rose. At first the audience was taken aback by the unexpected tableau. Then, pleased by the novel curtain call, they broke into even more boisterous applause.
As the cries rained down, Francesca wailed over the lifeless form.
"Marcello! Marcello! Dead! Dead!"
A crowd of extras and stagehands gathered around her. They stood awkwardly, uncertain what to do.
In the commotion, no one noticed the small note clutched in the victim's right hand: