FWO Archives: Puccini's 'Tosca' (2012 Festival)
A white-knuckle thrill ride of corruption, deceit, and passion. Called "viscerally gripping and powerfully sung," by the Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Opera's critically acclaimed production of Puccini's Tosca was an absolutely knockout highlight of the company's 2012 Festival season. Featuring a nuanced, beautifully vulnerable performance from soprano Carter Scott, this crowd-pleasing favorite, also starred Roger Honeywell as Mario Cavaradossi and the always brilliant bass-baritone Michael Chioldi as the villainous Baron Scarpia.
Act l: The Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, Rome, 1800
Angelotti, the brother of the Marchesa Attavanti and a political prisoner, has just escaped from the Castel Sant'Angelo and hurries in to find the hidden key to the Attavanti family chapel. He hides inside as the Sacristan, who maintains the church, enters looking for the painter Mario Cavaradossi. The painter soon arrives and returns to the piece he has been painting, a likeness of Mary Magdalene. The Sacristan notices the similarities between Cavaradossi's painting and an unknown woman (the Marchesa) who has been praying at the church lately. As Cavaradossi continues to work, he begins to think of his lover, Floria Tosca, and how different her beauty is from the fairhaired woman he paints. The Sacristan sets aside a basket of food for the painter and leaves. Believing the church empty, Angelotti comes out of hiding to discover Cavaradossi, a political ally, is still there. Just then, Tosca arrives, so Cavaradossi hurriedly sends Angelotti back into hiding before she sees him, this time with the basket of food.
Tosca, a passionate woman and well-known soprano, rushes in to accuse the painter of seeing someone else, and when she recognizes the Marchesa's face in Cavaradossi's painting, she is convinced of it. Cavaradossi pacifies Tosca by declaring that no woman's eyes can compare to her own. Having already promised to meet after her performance later that evening, he compels her to leave the church so he can continue working. As soon as she is gone, Angelotti reenters and tells the painter that the Marchesa had left some women's clothing to help aid his escape. Cavaradossi swears to help him evade Baron Scarpia and the Roman police force at any cost and gives Angelotti the key to his villa. Cavaradossi also advises Angelotti that the well on his property has a hidden passage where he can hide in case of danger. Suddenly, cannon sounds from the Castel announce Angelotti's escape. The men fiee to Cavaradossi's villa.
The Sacristan returns, bringing the choir with him, and spreads the reported news of the revolutionary Napoleon's death. The choir is to sing the Te Deum at the Palace in celebration, but their excitement is suppressed quickly when Scarpia and his agents arrive. They have tracked Angelotti to the church, and while searching the Attavanti's chapel, they find a fan with the Marchesa's crest on it. Looking up to the painting of the same lady, Scarpia immediately becomes suspicious of Cavaradossi. Meanwhile, the Sacristan finds the basket he left full of food in the chapel, now empty, which confirms for Scarpia that Cavaradossi has helped Angelotti.
Tosca returns to the church looking for Cavaradossi, and Scarpia decides to use the fan to make her suspicious of her lover. Playing on her religious nature, Scarpia points out that not all women come to the church to pray perhaps some come to rendezvous with a secret lover. The Marchesa, he reasons, must have dropped her fan near the painting when she and Cavaradossi fled for fear of discovery. An anguished Tosca swears she will go to the villa and catch them together, and Scarpia orders his second-in-command Spoletta to follow her. While the chorus sings the Te Deum, Scarpia realizes that his drive to destroy Cavaradossi is second only to his desire to possess Tosca.
Act Il: Scarpia's Rooms at the Palazzo Farnese
Having dinner alone, Scarpia waits to hear if Tosca led Spoletta to his prey. He is confident he can bend her to his will by using Cavaradossi's arrest as leverage. Spoletta enters to report that they did not discover Angelotti at the villa, which infuriates the chief of police. However, Spoletta did arrest Cavaradossi and brought him to the palace for Scarpia to question. Scarpia tries to interrogate Cavaradossi about Angelotti, but Cavaradossi cavalierly dismisses the questions. Tosca enters, having been summoned by Scarpia earlier, and is surprised to find Cavaradossi there. He quietly warns her to keep silent about what she saw at his villa. Cavaradossi is taken to another room, and Scarpia questions Tosca about whom she found with her lover at the villa. She insists that he was alone. When Tosca comes to the horrific understanding that Cavaradossi is being tortured, she cannot keep silent and she tells Scarpia of the hiding place in the well.
Cavaradossi curses Tosca as a faithless woman just as Scarpia receives word that Napoleon is not dead as reported earlier. Scarpia, distressed at this news, orders Cavaradossi's execution when the painter speaks his support for the revolution. Now alone with a devastated Tosca, Scarpia smoothly suggests that she can still save Cavaradossi's life for a price - she must give herself to him. When Spoletta announces that Angelotti has committed suicide, and finding herself trapped by Scarpia's treachery, Tosca agrees to his wishes but demands a price of her own. She insists that he free her lover instantly. Scarpia claims that he cannot free Cavaradossi publicly, but with Spoletta's help, they will stage a mock execution by firing squad. Tosca further demands that Cavaradossi and she be allowed to leave together afterwards. While Scarpia writes a letter granting them safe passage, Tosca conceals a knife she has found, and when he approaches to claim his prize, she stabs him to death.
Act Ill: The Ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo
As dawn breaks, the jailer tells Cavaradossi that he has one hour left and asks if he wants a priest Instead, the painter asks if he can write a note to Tosca, and he bribes thejailer with his ring to ensure its delivery. Overcome with memories and grief, he does not notice when Tosca enters. She shows him the letter Scarpia wrote granting them passage and explains how she outwitted and killed the heartless villain. Cavaradossi is overwhelmed with love by what Tosca has done to save his life. Tosca carefully instructs him how to act during his mock execution - his death must be believable. The lovers, enraptured by their hopes for the future, do not suspect that Scarpia never intended to let Cavaradossi live. Tosca is surprised at how well Cavaradossi pretends to die, until she discovers the bullets were real. As Spoletta rushes in to arrest her having found Scarpia's body, Tosca leaps to her death, vowing justice before God.
Synopsis by Hannah Smith, Director of Fort Worth Opera Studio/Education
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) is known largely for the three operas he wrote in succession: La Bohème, Tosca, and Madame Butterfly. These operas, written in an eight-year span from 1896 to 1904, have remained constantly in the operatic repertory since their premieres, and together they established Puccini as the leading composer of Italian verismo opera. In reality, the seeds of verisrno began in France in 1871 when a group of composers established the Société Nationale de Musique, which called for composers to use indigenous French music, particularly folk-song, as inspiration. The movement quickly gained popularity throughout the country and motivated a whole generation of composers to use common life and real characters as a basis for their operas. (One of the most famous French operas born from this movement is Georges Bizet's Carmen, an opera that was condemned as being too common and too real.) Soon enough naturalism spread to Italy, where Puccini put his stamp on the movement and eventually became the most famous practitioner of realism in opera at the time.
Early in his career, with but a few operas to his credit, Puccini became fascinated by the French playwright Victorien Sardou's play La Tosca, and he asked his publisher Ricordi to obtain the rights to the play. However, several years passed while Puccini focused on composing Manon Lescaut and La Bohème, so the rights passed to another composer, Alberto Franchetti. In 1895, with his work on La Bohèrne coming to a close, Puccini once again took up the idea for Tosca, and had Ricordi persuade Franchetti, reportedly without any objections, to relinquish his rights. The play was handed over to the librettist team of Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. By June of 1898, Puccini traveled to Paris to get Sardou's blessing on the libretto. Despite suggesting a number of changes that Puccini rejected for fear they would simply weigh down the story, Sardou approved of the libretto, and Puccini returned to Italy to finish his composition.
Puccini went to great lengths to include painstakingly accurate details in his work, and so was able to achieve the particular ambience of his top operas: Bohemian Paris for La Bohème, modern-day Japan for Madame Butterfly, and the revolutionary and religious tension in Rome for Tosca. Revealed by Puccini's correspondence at the time was the sheer amount of research that he put into composing Tosca. He reached out to his old friend Father Pietro Panichelli who supplied the composer with both musical and theatrical information. The priest gave him the melody for the Te Deum typically sung and the proper order of the procession of the cardinals in Roman churches, as well as a description of the Swiss Guards' uniforms.
Also from a Roman poet, Luigi Zanazzo, Puccini picked up the text for the shepherd-boy's song in Act 3. However, it was Puccini's exploration of the bells of Rome that took on tinges of obsession. The composer made a special trip to the city and spent the entire day, until the wee hours of the morning, listening to how the bells would sound to someone on the ramparts of Castel Sant'Angelo. He also wrote to several friends, who then also reached out to their friends, trying to find anyone who could name with absolute certainty the exact pitch of the great bell of St. Peter's Basilica, which was finally supplied by a musician at the Vatican. It turns out that Puccini had a very calculated plan for all the information he gathered on the bells.
Three heavy chords open the opera and represent Scarpia (we know this because they reappear throughout the work and always in conjunction with either the character himself or the general sense of tyranny he projects). The final chord of the three is based on E, which is the precise pitch of St. Peter's bell. So, at the very start of the opera, Puccini has anticipated the use of St. Peter's bell in the third act when Scarpia is already dead but whose cruelty has doomed the lovers. The resonance of E in the bell to the listener's mind paints a picture of oppression by Scarpia, the dominant political figure in the opera. The use of the three chords, which again represent the villain, with the final chord based on E, representing the church, lends a sense of grim inevitability to the story.
Puccini also used the bells in smaller, more subtle strokes to depict how religion dictated the everyday lives of the characters. Prior to the first time the audience hears a bell, the Sacristan has been fidgeting about the chapel, but after we hear the tone of a single bell, he immediately begins a prayer using the same pitch of the bell. His rhythm changes from a natural spoken patter before the bell to a practiced, regular pattern after the bell. Likewise, the second time we hear a bell, when Tosca has returned to the chapel to find Scarpia there and not Cavaradossi, she questions her lover's whereabouts, and then states twice in rapid succession her belief in his faithfulness ("Inganata? No, no, tradirmi eglinon put), tradirmi eglinon può!").
The first phrase is sung in a natural rhythm that follows the language, but the bell sounds before she repeats herself. As it sounds, Tosca immediately begins to intone her statement on the first pitch of the bell and she matches its rhythm as well. While both of these examples are much more understated than the pairing of Scarpia and St. Peter's bell, they nonetheless show that Puccini was capable of using small details to present the full psychology of his characters.
Similarly interesting is how Puccini used the bells to physiologically affect the audience. In this era, the Italian audience was used to opera based on history, literature, and distant times, so in terms of naturalism, imagine the original Roman audience hearing the bells within the opera house - the same bells that they heard in the city every day. Through this, Puccini made the entire city the opera's backdrop, causing the bloody tragedy to become more realistic than anything they had experienced in opera previously. Of course, since verismo was such a new and shocking approach to opera, techniques like this made other composers accuse Puccini of using cheap theatrical tricks, and, in essence, ruining the entire aft form as a result, which could be a valid argument, if Puccini had limited the bells to a surface treatment. Instead, he used them within the music and story both to heighten the tension and tragedy of Tosca.
Former Director of the Fort Worth Opera Studio/Education, Hannah Smith earned her master's in musicology and bachelor's in vocal performance from Texas Christian University. Before joining FWOpera in 2008, she worked for the Van Cliburn Foundation, where among other duties, she was editor for all their printed materials.
CAST AND CREATIVE
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
After the play by Victorien Sardou
Sung in Italian
Featuring the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
Conductor Joe Illick
Director Daniel Pelzig
Scenic Designer Andrew Horn*
Costume Designer Ray Diffen
Lighting Designer Kendall Smith*
Makeup and Wig Designer Steven Bryant
Stage Manager Adam Schwartz
Assistant Director Nathan Troup*
Chorus Master Stephen Dubberly
Repetiteur Sean Kelly
English Supertitle Cueing Keith A. Wolfe
Spanish Supertitle Translation Gabriela Lomónaco
The Cast in Order of Appearance
Angelotti Thomas Forde
The Sacristan Rod Nelman
Mario Cavardossi Roger Honeywell
Floria Tosca Carter Scott
Baron Scarpia Michael Chioldi
Spoleta Corey Trahan
Sciarrone John Cabrali
Shepherd Boy Katharine Steffens*
A Jailer Dewey Reikofski*
Photos by Ellen Appel & Ron Ennis