Parlando: The COC Blog


9 Things About Tosca

By Nikita Gourski, Strategic Advisor and Artistic Associate 

Romance, war, murder. Tosca is an operatic thriller set to one of opera's most lush and memorable scores. Do you need to brush up on your Tosca knowledge or simply want to learn more about our production? Here are 9 Things About Tosca!

1. Puccini, the master of emotions

Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924) was a master at composing for the stage, blending accessible yet highly evocative music with fast-moving narrative to create operas of immense popular appeal. Some critics have taken issue with Puccini’s melodramatic tendencies—American musicologist Joseph Kerman, for example, famously dismissed Tosca as a “shabby little shocker.” Yet despite such perennial complaints, Puccini’s work continues to resonate with audiences in a genuine, moving way, and operas such as La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, and Tosca remain some of the most popular in the canon for a reason.

2. It’s a historical thriller

Tosca is set in Rome in 1800 during the Napoleonic Wars. The action has a sense of realism and urgency, with references to actual military battles (Battle of Marengo), city landmarks (Castel Sant’Angelo), and a story that unfolds almost in real-time. Indeed, Tosca’s suspenseful plotting and quick pace has been compared to a Hitchcock film. Additionally Puccini wanted to incorporate real-life sounds into his score—church bells, canon fire, rifle shots, etc.—to expand the musical fabric of the orchestra into the life of the street. (At the time, this was viewed as a radical innovating by some critics, and earned disapproval for being mere noise as opposed to music.)

3. Original performance

Tosca premiered in 1900 in Rome, the same city as its setting. And though the Napoleonic Wars were long over, Italy was going through a period of political turbulence and social unrest, which amplified the opera’s sensational subject matter. The atmosphere of political instability almost compromised the premiere, as the theatre dealt with a bomb threat, while the cast and producers received menacing letters from those who objected to an out-of-towner composing about Rome. Despite these obstacles, the opera had its premiere to great audience acclaim, though music critics were more divided.

4. When politics become personal

The plot centres on Floria Tosca, a famous opera singer who is ensnared in political intrigue when her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, is imprisoned by a repressive regime. The sadistic chief of police Scarpia (likely the most hate-able villain in all of opera) then propositions Tosca by allowing Cavaradossi to live if she agrees to meet his sexual demands.

5. Puccini hit list

With Tosca, Puccini created some of his most memorable music, including arias like Cavaradossi’s “Recondita armonia,” sung as the painter is working on his portrait of Mary Magdalene and Tosca’s famous “Vissi d’arte,” in which the heroine reflects on her devotion to art as she faces the ethical challenge posed by Scarpia’s lascivious offer. The opera is also notable for being through-composed—with the music unfolding in one more or less uninterrupted wave of sustained flow. This continuously advancing quality of the music is a natural fit for the action-driven plot of the opera.

6. Leitmotifs: musical signposts

Puccini uses leitmotifs extensively in Tosca; these are recurring musical phrases that signify the appearance of certain characters or even reference individuals who might be absent but discussed by others (the Star Wars franchise is a good example of this practice—think of the music that accompanies Darth Vader’s entrances). One of the defining motifs in Tosca is the sinister, jagged music line associated with Scarpia, a theme that serves as the opening of the opera and recurs frequently to underscore the ubiquitous reach of a nefarious state power. Contrast this with the bright woodwinds and high, expressive strings that accompany Tosca, first as she appears in the church in Act I and then throughout the opera. This musical contrast builds dramatic tension and reinforces the clash of wills at the heart of the story.

7. Onstage style

Our lavish production was created by the award-winning Scottish director Paul Curran, with sumptuous costumes and stunning sets of chapels, palaces, and fortresses of 19th-century Rome by designer Kevin Knight, and atmospheric lighting design by David Martin Jacques. When this production premiered in 2008, Curran noted, “There are similar stories to Tosca in theatre and on film but nothing quite has the same effect as the melodic and dramatic invention of Puccini in the opera house. It never fails to amaze me.”

8. Two of opera’s great divas

Sharing the title role are Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka and American soprano Keri Alkema. Pieczonka is returning to the role of Tosca at the COC after delivering a “luminous performance” (The Globe and Mail) with the company in 2012. For Alkema, this is her first Tosca with the COC, but comes on the heels of her appearance in the role with the English National Opera last fall, in which her performance was lavishly praised: “compelling… Passionate, teasing, vulnerable, full of love, stirred to vengeful rage and desperate measures, Alkema gets to the heart of Tosca” (The Times).

9. A Canadian debut at the podium

Conducting the COC Orchestra and Chorus is Canadian Keri-Lynn Wilson. A regular guest conductor at leading international opera companies and orchestras, Wilson makes her COC debut with Tosca. When she appeared with English National Opera in 2014, conducting another Puccini work, she was hailed as “unquestionably one of the stars of the evening” (The Guardian). 

Our production of Tosca is onstage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts from April 30 to May 20. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

Photo credits (top - bottom): Adrianne Pieczonka in Tosca (COC, 2012), photo by Michael Cooper; Mark Delavan and Adrianne Pieczonka in Tosca (COC, 2012), photo by Michael Cooper; Carlo Ventre and Adrianne Pieczonka in Tosca (COC, 2012), photo by Gary Beechey

Posted by Tanner Davies / in Tosca / comments (5) / permalink

Eric Gam (5/1/2017 5:03:35 PM)
A wonderful performance Sunday afternoon by all performers and backstage workers, fully worthy of the extended standing ovation and cheers at the conclusion.
Jutta Payne (5/1/2017 8:34:02 PM)
Hi: I loved the wonderful voices of the three main characters. The costumes and set were sumptuous. The plot, however, needed more depth.
Catherine Sbrolla (5/10/2017 6:09:38 PM)
Tosca was by far the best of the 6 operas this year. The traditional costumes and sets made it more accessible even to a neophyte and coupled with the glorious music and wonderful performers including the conductor, made for a magical evening that would have made Puccini proud.
Beth Minto (5/13/2017 7:56:56 PM)
What a treat I had last night seeing Tosca yet again. A lady conductor, an amazing tenor (Puente) beautiful costumes . One could hear a pin drop in the auditorium until the applause. It felt so good to be there sharing a beautiful evening. Thank you COC
Megan Facecchia (5/15/2017 4:08:58 PM)
I attended the Tosca performance on Thursday, May 11th. It was a beautiful production and the cast was superb! The program said Keri Alkema was performing Tosca that night, however, her likeness to Adrianne Pieczonka was so remarkable I was not sure if it was a misprint in the program and it was Miss Pieczonka that was performing. Can you please confirm which soprano performed. Her performance was brilliant and her aria in the second act was audio perfection. It was, by far, the best operatic performance I have ever witnessed. Thank you for bringing this production to your audience.

Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001



Subscribe to the COC e-mail newsletter.
Contact Tanner
Have a question? Want to share a link? Submit a comment!