Tosca Puccini Opera, Teatro Coccia Novara ~ Romancing Italy

Nov 11, 2008

Tosca Puccini Opera, Teatro Coccia Novara

So you think Tosca is heavy, tragic, depressing? Nuances in the performance just might tickle your funny bone and even dramatic operas must have bloopers.

If you are thinking that I must be desperate to get out of the house, if I’d go to an opera…you’re right. I miss the arts that I took for granted in San Francisco, mostly the symphony. It’s usually when you don’t have something that you realize just how much you want it.

I’ve discovered that Italy IS opera and her citizens have a deep love and appreciation for this music. My friend pressured me in early September to choose the performances I wanted to attend during the season so we could get our tickets right away. What was the hurry? On Single Ticket Day a line snakes out the door and down the cobblestoned pavement with people waiting to gobble up available seats for the operas, resulting in sold out performances from day one.

In contrast, if I walked up to the box office on the night of a symphony 1 minute before the performance, I could still choose a seat from all over the hall! It usually is practically empty.

I read the synopsis Tosca before going. By the time I reached the end I was laughing; not because I am sadistic, but because I couldn’t believe I was about to spend the afternoon absorbing a tragedy. Heavy, tragic, depressing!

Note to self: always do your homework before buying the ticket. (Plot synopsis here)

If you don’t know the story of Tosca, here is the very, very briefest of summaries, I’d tell you now, ALL the principals die. Angelotti commits suicide, Scarpia is stabbed , Cavaradossi (Tosca’s lover) is shot to death, and Tosca leaps from a very tall building. Good stuff.

Puccini, Tosca
Puccini, Tosca

The lights dimmed, the music started and then began a beautiful, riveting, amazing opera. The set was elegant, well made and I loved the architectural design. The lighting was perfect; I even loved Tosca’s voice. The costumes were beautiful and the devious, corrupt Scarpia was wonderfully evil. I loved him.

And the love themes wound their melodies around our hearts and squeezed. When Tosca anguished on stage, the hair on my arm stood straight. Cavaradossi expressed his love with such intensity I held my breath. I felt what they felt and I loved it.

All was not magical though. When Tosca murders Scarpia, stabbing him with his dinner knife, I struggled to stifle my laughter. NO, I am NOT a bad person! Scarpia stumbles away from Tosca, suddenly jerks as if shot, leans against the sofa screaming for help, then tumbles to the floor landing on his back like a dog with all four paws in the air. It was brief, but the image stuck in my head. You would have chuckled too.

As if that was not bad enough, Tosca moved defiantly past his body only to trip on her skirt, wind-milling her arms to keep her balance. And the scene lost its tragic effect. She came back in the next scene with her skirt lifted, tucked in at her waist.

The rest of this opera went smoothly but there are stories from other performances of Tosca that I feel must be repeated. The last act where Cavaradossi is executed has racked up blooper after blooper. These are excerpts from Giovanni Christen’s article:

“From the front-page headlines in Italian newspapers: "Cavaradossi has been shot!"... At the Macerata summer festival on 30 July 1995, the tenor (Fabio Armiliato) was shot in the 3rd act - as usual. But this time when Tosca (Raina Kabaivanska) rushed to him she heard a whisper: "Call an ambulance!...", and then she fainted at the sight of his blood.” The blanks, used as Puccini would have wanted, to achieve a degree of realism, was overcharged and drew blood, thank goodness in his leg.

The bouncing Tosca: Tosca as usual jumps from the walls of Castel Sant'Angelo. But the stage workers had improved her security by replacing the mattress with a trampoline, so that Tosca appeared 2 or 3 times from behind the wall...

The collective suicide: the stage director was giving last-minute instruction to the supers hired as soldiers. There had been no stage rehearsal, and he gave them the usual instruction "exit with the principals". When Tosca leapt from the parapet, seeing no other principals left on stage, they all dutifully jumped after her, giving a Shakespearean greatness to the final tragedy.

Playing with fire: From Tito Gobbi’s memoirs comes this story -- Maria Callas was Tosca, and during the 2nd act she came too near the candles burning on Scarpia's desk and ignited her hair (or wig). Gobbi immediately improvised a raptor-like motion: he jumped on Tosca, embraced her and extinguished the flames. Tosca rejected him with disgust, but then whispered him a "thank you, Tito"... just before killing him.

If you want to read more of the background of Tosca, the history, the characters and so on, go to

If it is said to “look for the silver lining” I think I found a huge vein.



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