Tosca, Synopsis and Musical Examples
by Judy Vander Heide
Setting: Rome, June 1800
Daytime:Church of San’Andrea della Valle
The Kingdom of Naples’ control of Rome is threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. Political prisoner Cesare Angelotti has bolted from the Neapolitan prison and fled to his sister’s private chapel in the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. As an aged Sacristan kneels to pray, Mario Cavaradossi enters the church to continue work on his painting of Mary Magdalene, a portrait which is modeled on the image of the lovely Marchesa Attavanti, Angelotti’s sister. In a fit of reverie the artist compares the blond beauty of the Marchesa to his own raven-haired lover, the famous singer Floria Tosca.
When old friends Angelotti and Cavaradossi meet, the escaped prisoner is barely recognizable for the beatings he has endured from Police Chief Scarpia. He hides as Tosca enters the church; she is immediately suspicious and distrustful, having spied the painting of the Magdalene. Finally she allows Mario to reassure her as to his fidelity and their love.
After Tosca departs, the two old friends and political allies plan for Angelotti to h ide in the garden of Cavaradossi’s villa. A blast from the cannon at Castel Sant’Angelo proclaims the prisoner’s escape. As the Sacristan goes into the church accompanied by choristers who will sing the Te Deum, the supposition is that Napoleon has been defeated. Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police, enters, searches, but cannot find Angelotti. Upon the return of Tosca, he manipulates her jealousy by slyly encouraging her belief that Mario and the Marchesa have formed a relationship. Furious, Tosca departs for Cavaradossi’s villa and unwittingly is followed by the police. Scarpia revels in his plan to possess Tosca as the procession sings the Te Deum.
Evening:Scarpia’s Study in Palazzo Farnese
Tosca has received a note summoning her to Scarpia’s apartment. Frustrated because he has been unable to locate Angelotti, Scarpia has had Cavaradossi arrested, but the artist denies any knowledge of Angelotti. He sees Tosca for a brief moment and cautions her to remain silent about Angelotti’s whereabouts. Scarpia threatens Tosca, and after hearing Cavaradossi’s cries of anguish from the torture he is enduring, she reveals Angelotti’s hiding place. Now Cavaradossi has been brought before Scarpia; he is furious that Tosca has betrayed Angelotti but rejoices in the next instant when a police officer delivers the news that Napoleon, who for Cavaradossi embodies liberty, equality, and fraternity, has won a significant
victory. The artist is returned to prison. Scarpia proposes to Tosca that he will release Cavaradossi if she submits to him. Tosca cries out to God, asking why she must endure such misfortune when she has lived for art and piety.
She hears a drum beat announcing the forthcoming execution of her lover.Angelotti has committed suicide, and Scarpia, now in total control, tells Tosca he will arrange a feigned execution. She demands a letter confirming safe conduct out of Rome and, as Scarpia finishes writing, she seizes a knife that is lying on the table and plunges it into him. Taking the precious letter, she then lights candles and drapes a crucifix on Scarpia’s body.
Shortly before daw,n Cavaradossi has been dragged to the battlements of the castle. As he gazes at the stars, he is overwhelmed with memories of Tosca and pens a farewell note to her affirming his love.
Tosca enters and joyously tells him of the letter she has secured from Scarpia which promises
his safe conduct—and that she has killed Scarpia. Cavaradossi praises her fortitude and they rhapsodize about their future together. She instructs him how he should conduct himself during the sham execution by Scarpia’s firing squad: he is to remain silent and prostrate as if dead until she signals. While Cavaradossi is led before the soldiers, Tosca hides; then a volley of bullets strikes her lover. Scarpia, however, has had his revenge and betrayed her. Clutching Cavaradossi’s lifeless body, she weeps. As Scarpia’s henchmen, having discovered their patron’s murder, approach to apprehend her, Tosca evades them and plunges over the parapet to her death.
Judy Vander Heide is the president of the Ogden Opera Guild, which supports Utah Opera. She also serves on the boards of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera and Opera Volunteers, International and is a proud member of the Crescendo Society of Utah Opera.