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Explore the romance and tragedy of one of Giacomo Puccini's greatest operas, Tosca. Includes plot synopsis and pictures.
The curtain goes up and we see escaped prisoner and former Consul of the Roman Republic Cesare Angelotti running into Attavanti private chapel and hides. Soon after, a Sacristan (basically a caretaker) arrives and begins to clean the place. It's all a bit mysterious at this point…
But then a painter, Mario Cavaradossi, arrives to continue his painting of Mary Magdalene. Before long, he's belting out a classic Puccini aria about how his brown-haired girlfriend, Floria Tosca (a singer), and the blonde in his painting differ - 'Recondita Armonia'. The Sacristan has a bit of a grumble about it and wanders off.
Angelotti then reveals himself after being hidden. It turns out that Cavaradossi is an old friend (convenient, that) and Angelotti begins telling him about his travails - he is being pursued by the chief of police, Baron Scarpia, so Cavaradossi agrees to help him out that night. Before they can do anything, we hear Tosca's voice soaring out to Cavaradossi. She enters, and Angelotti hides again.
Tosca is suspicious - she questions her lover, under the impression that he's been cavorting with another woman, and becomes jealous of the woman in Cavaradossi's painting. Naturally, Cavaradossi tries to convince her that she's the only one for him (he's particularly fond of her eyes, apparently), but he says that he can't meet her at his villa that night. He doesn't say why, though…
Tosca makes her exit and Angelotti reappears from hiding. Then, he and Cavaradossi come up with the rather unlikely plan of Angelotti's escape - he will flee disguised as a woman and hide in the well in Cavaradossi's garden. Standard stuff. Suddenly, a cannon sounds, signalling that Angelotti's escape has been discovered and the hunt is on to capture him…
As the two leave, the Sacristan reappears to spread the news that Napoleon has been beaten in battle at Marengo, which everyone's rather pleased about. However, the frivolity ends when chief of police Scarpia enters with his henchmen. He questions the Sacristan and consequently goes after Cavaradossi, believing him to be involved with Angelotti's escape.
Tosca arrives (again - why's she hanging about in the chapel so much?), only to find Scarpia there. He, being quite the nasty fellow, suggests that her boyfriend is actually in love with the woman in the painting, and she runs off to confront him. Craftily, Scarpia's men follow her to get to Cavaradossi and Angelotti.
The curtain rises on Act II, and Scarpia's posh apartment. He's requested that Tosca join him, and we find out that he's managed to capture Cavaradossi but not Angelotti. As Cavaradossi is questioned, he hears the voice of Tosca in the next room. Unsurprisingly, he claims to know nothing about Angelotti, so he is taken into another room to be tortured - but Tosca catches sight of him before it happens and he tells her to keep schtum about Angelotti.
Scarpia makes a deal with Tosca. If she tells him where Angelotti is, he'll stop torturing Cavaradossi. What a pickle! She hears her lover's screams from the next room and ends up telling Scarpia that Angelotti is still down a well in Cavaradossi's garden. What a cave-in! The torture ends and the knackered painter comes back only to discover Tosca's betrayal, which makes him rather angry.
A policeman, Sciarrone, enters and lets everyone know that, contrary to earlier reports, Napoleon has actually won the battle at Marengo. Cavaradossi then has a bit of a gloat about it to Scarpia, claiming that his days are numbered, before being dragged off kicking and screaming.
Scarpia just can't let it lie, though, and proposes another bargain with Tosca. If she lets him shack up with her, Cavaradossi will be set free. She doesn't react well, and is disgusted with him. Hearing the drums outside that signal Cavaradossi's impending execution, Tosca sings: 'Vissi D'Arte', in which she laments her situation and asks God for intervention.
News arrives that Angelotti has killed himself. Everything is ready for Cavaradossi's execution, so Tosca finally agrees to Scarpia's demands. Scarpia arranges for the execution to be faked. But Tosca has another idea - she demands that Scarpia arranges a safe escape for her and her lover, and gets him to sign a document to prove it.
With the document signed and the object of his affection finally his, Scarpia grabs Tosca in an embrace. However, she's not having any of it and fatally stabs him. She then says that she forgives him (which is perhaps not the most apposite time to mention it), lights a candle, places a crucifix on his body and then leaves. As exits go, it's pretty good.
Act III opens with church bells and an atmosphere of gloom. Cavaradossi is told that he has an hour left to live. The only thing on his mind is Tosca, so he writes a letter to her and sings one of Puccini's greatest romantic arias, 'E lucevan le stelle'. No sooner has he finished than Tosca herself blusters in with the signed document, explaining that his execution is a fake.
At the execution, Cavaradossi knows he has simply to pretend to be dead when the firing squad shoot him, because they all have blanks. They shoot, and he falls rather too convincingly… Tosca is initially impressed by his acting skill, but when he doesn't move and she inspects closer, she sees that Scarpia has had the last laugh and made sure the bullets were real.
In a shocking climax, Tosca is now pursued by the police after her murder of Scarpia. She evades their clutches and mounts a parapet, where she then flings herself over to her death. The curtain falls.