Tosca, Floria

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Tosca, Floria

Zinka Milanov and Floria Tosca Art, Love, and Politics

Zinka Milanov and Floria Tosca Art, Love, and Politics, Part 2


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(Puccini: Tosca). Sop. A prima donna in love with the painter Cavaradossi, and desired by Baron Scarpia. She visits Cavaradossi in the church where he is painting a portrait of the Madonna. She accuses him of painting the face of the Madonna with the features of the beautiful Marchese Attavanti. What she does not know is that Cavaradossi has given shelter to the Marchese's brother Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner. Tosca departs and the Sacristan brings news of Bonaparte's defeat. To celebrate, Tosca will sing that evening at a concert in the Farnese Palace, residence of Scarpia. After the concert she is summoned to the Baron's room. Cavaradossi has been arrested and is being tortured to make him reveal Angelotti's hiding-place. He is guarded by Spoletta and Sciarrone. Before he is dragged away to be tortured further, he orders her to say nothing, but unable to bear the sound of his suffering, she blurts out Angelotti's hiding-place. She begs for Cavaradossi's freedom and Scarpia is prepared to grant it—at a price: Tosca must be his. Overcome with disgust and shame, she agrees, and Scarpia orders his thugs to carry out a mock execution. Tosca insists he write out a safe conduct pass for herself and Cavaradossi. While he is doing this, she notices, on his dinner-table, a sharp knife and she makes a decision—she picks up the knife and hides it behind her back. Scarpia finishes writing and approaches Tosca, ready to extract the promised bargain. Tosca stabs him. Before she leaves the room she must find the letter allowing her and Cavaradossi to leave Rome. The note is still in Scarpia's hand and she has to prise it from his fingers. Now her innate religious devotion comes to the fore. She takes two candles from the table and places them next to the body and puts a crucifix on his chest. She grabs her cloak and leaves. Allowed to see Cavaradossi before his ‘execution’, she explains what she has done and how he must fake death until all the soldiers have left—he must give a convincing performance. But Scarpia has tricked her and after the firing-squad has left she discovers that Cavaradossi really has been shot. Scarpia's body has been found, and to evade the pursuing soldiers, Tosca jumps from the battlements. Aria: Vissi d'arte (‘I have lived for art’—this aria is almost always a show-stopper, so much so that Maria Callas is said to have considered excluding it in order to avoid a break in the continuity of the action); duets (with Cavaradossi): Quale occhio al mondo può star di paro (‘What eyes in the world can compare’); O dolci mani… (‘O sweet hands.’). Created (1900) by Hariclea Darclée.

Tosca is a great opportunity for a singing actress, covering the whole gamut of emotions. In the first act she displays her religious fervour, her love for Cavaradossi, and her jealousy at the thought that he might show interest in another woman. In the second act she has to be first the diva (singing offstage), then the broken woman who witnesses her lover being tortured. Self-disgust and shame are displayed at the thought of having to give herself to Scarpia. Then—and surely it is a spur-of-the-moment decision, as she sees the knife on the table—she has the strength, physical and psychological, to kill the Baron, and the presence of mind to remember to tear the necessary note from his hand. After she has stabbed Scarpia, she screams at him to die: Muori dannato! Muori! (‘Die accursed! Die!’) and when he has stopped moving she looks down on his body in amazement: È avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma! (‘And before him all Rome trembled!’). But she should have smelled a rat—when Scarpia ordered the mock execution of Cavaradossi to be ‘as with Palmieri’ she really should have asked what happened to Palmieri! No doubt the greatest Tosca of our lifetime—or may be any lifetime—has been Maria Callas, but others who have shone in the role include Emmy Destinn, Claudia Muzio, Maria Jeritza, Gina Cigna, Maria Caniglia, Ljuba Welitsch, Milka Ternina, Zinka Milanov, Régine Crespin, Renata Tebaldi, Birgit Nilsson, Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, Galina Vishnevskaya, Montserrat Caballé, Mirella Freni, Galina Gorchakova, Raina Kabaivanska, and Catherine Malfitano.


Subjects: Opera.

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