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Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

HIGH FIVE: Get to Know TOSCA in Five Minutes or Less

Sep 21, 2017 10:40:20 AM
By Lacey Upton


OCTOBER 13 – 22
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
A co-production between Boston Lyric Opera & Opera Omaha
Sung in Italian, with English surtitles
Length: Approximately 2 hours, including 1 intermission

Rome, June, 1800: Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner, seeks help from Cavaradossi, a painter and sympathizer with his cause. Cavaradossi conceals Angelotti from Tosca, his lover. A cannon announces the arrival of Scarpia, Chief of Police; the two men flee.

Scarpia probes Tosca for information, implying that Cavaradossi is faithless. Enraged, she leaves to confront him, while Scarpia’s agents trail her.

Later, Scarpia fantasizes about Tosca, whom he has summoned. He interrogates her while Cavaradossi is tortured. Finally, she relents. Scarpia tells Tosca he will spare her lover’s life through a mock execution if she gives herself to him that evening. She agrees in despair, but when he turns to embrace her, Tosca kills him.

Tosca finds Cavaradossi in prison and they imagine starting a new life. Police agents escort him away; Tosca watches in hiding. The men fire and Cavaradossi falls. She rushes to him but he is truly dead. As the soldiers close in on her, Tosca makes her final choice.


Urgent, visceral, and violent, part of Tosca’s appeal lies in that it is the tale of ordinary people—in extraordinary circumstances. In fact, the opera is considered a prime example of a style called verismo. Loosely translated as “realism,” verismo composers rejected royal, noble, and mythical characters in favor of exploring everyday people and situations to their raw, intense, and sometimes violent core. The definition of verismo opera is broad and open to interpretation, but Puccini’s lifelong focus on realistic situations (such as poor, young, Parisian artists in La Bohème), his direct and accessible musical language (think melodic lines, swelling chords, and expressive, emotional orchestration), and his willingness to explore the dark sides of humanity (for example, the sexual power struggle and physical violence in Tosca) identify him as a pioneer of the verismo tradition.


Get ready for a Tosca with an orchestral sound as epic as the story onstage. While the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre orchestra pit is on the small side—generally accommodating up to about 35 musicians—a full Puccini orchestra is usually much larger. Our creative team for Tosca determined that they would find a solution to the space crunch. Hence, the 58-piece orchestra will be placed onstage at the Majestic, rather than in the pit, elevated on a level 10' above the singers. The score becomes a living, breathing, visible force in the confrontation between Tosca, Scarpia, and Cavaradossi—with the sound and scale that Puccini intended.Tosca set act1.jpg


  • After the success of Sardou's play La Tosca, on which the opera is based, actress Sarah Bernhardt purchased a pet lion for her household menagerie—she named him Scarpia.
  • BLO’s Tosca, Elena Stikhina, is a Russian soprano with a burgeoning international career, making her U.S. debut in the role for BLO.
  • The opera is set in real locations throughout the city of Rome, including the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle (Act I), the Palazzo Farnese (Act II), and the Castel Sant’Angelo (Act III). The church’s first chapel on the left has been affectionately dubbed the Cappella della Tosca by Puccini fans.

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Images (top to bottom): Elena Stikhina and Jonathan Burton; Poster artwork for Tosca by Adolfo Hohenstein, 1899; Set design rendering by Julia Noulin-Mérat for BLO.

Topics: HIGH FIVE, #ToscaBLO, 2017/18 Season

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