Floria Tosca stands in shock, clutching a dagger in her bloodstained hands. An hour before she was singing hymns in church. How did she come to this?
Tosca is a fast-paced operatic thriller. From the first shattering bars Puccini’s mastery puts you on the edge of your seat and keeps you there. Michael Blakemore’s classic period production returns with American soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams and Austrian baritone Claudio Otelli making their WNO debuts.
Recommended by Classic FM
"OK, so you know an aria from this? Not enough! You’re missing out. Blazing with dramatic music, the Orchestra propels you towards tragedy . Chorus? Magnificence in Act 1, distant sadness in Act 2. You’d better see it. Go on, jump..."
Chorus & Orchestra Director
New to opera? Tosca is the perfect place to start. Join us for a special introduction to opera before selected performances of Tosca.
Inside the church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle
Angelotti, the former consul of the Parthenopean Republic of Naples, has been imprisoned in the Castel Sant’Angelo by the Royalists loyal to the Queen of Naples under her police chief, Baron Scarpia. Angelotti’s sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, has helped him to escape and take refuge in her family chapel in a disguise she has provided. Mario Cavaradossi, a painter, is working on a picture of Mary Magdalen, modelled on a woman the Sacristan recognises as a recent visitor to the chapel, the Marchesa herself. Cavaradossi sees a resemblance in the painting both to the Marchesa and to his beloved, the operatic soprano Floria Tosca. Angelotti comes out of his hiding-place and recognises Cavaradossi as an old friend. Cavaradossi promises to help him escape, but is interrupted by Tosca calling his name from outside the church. Angelotti hides again, and Tosca comes in, full of suspicion and jealousy at the rumours she has been hearing. Cavaradossi calms her fears, and together they sing of their love for one another. They plan to meet that evening, and Tosca goes. Cavaradossi is helping Angelotti plan his escape from Rome when a cannon-shot interrupts them: it is a signal that he has been found missing from the Castel Sant’Angelo. Cavaradossi decides to hide Angelotti in his own villa outside Rome.
No sooner have they gone than the Sacristan returns with the news (false, as it turns out) that Napoleon has been defeated. He is surprised to find Cavaradossi no longer there. A procession forms for the solemn Te Deum in celebration of the Royalist victory over the French and the Republicans, but Scarpia’s sudden arrival brings the preparations to a halt. He discovers a fan near Cavaradossi’s painting equipment and the Attavanti coat of arms on it proves that Angelotti has been hiding in the church. The Sacristan tells him that Cavaradossi’s food-basket is now empty, indicating that the painter must have helped the fugitive to escape. Tosca returns to tell Cavaradossi that a new engagement, to sing a cantata for the Queen of Naples at the Palazzo Farnese as part of the victory celebrations, will prevent her from meeting him that evening. Her jealousy is aroused again by his absence from the church. Scarpia builds on this by showing her the Marchesa’s fan, and tricks her into believing that Cavaradossi is betraying her. She sets off for his villa, where she fears she will find him with her rival. Spoletta, Scarpia’s agent, secretly follows her there. As the Te Deum begins, Scarpia has a sudden flash of inspiration: he will send Cavaradossi to his death on the gallows, and at the same time force Tosca to submit to him.
Scarpia’s apartments in the Palazzo Farnese
Scarpia sits at his supper and relishes the thought of his plan. A gavotte is being played elsewhere in the palace, where the Queen’s celebrations are in full swing. Scarpia’s agents bring Cavaradossi in for questioning, but he denies any knowledge of Angelotti’s whereabouts. While Scarpia proceeds with his interrogation, Tosca is heard singing her cantata. Scarpia, getting nowhere with the painter, slams the window shut and blocks out the sound of the music. Tosca soon arrives in response to Scarpia’s note that he has sent her earlier. Cavaradossi is taken into the adjoining room and tortured severely to make him betray Angelotti’s hiding-place. Tosca cannot bear the sound of his cries of agony, and tells Scarpia that Angelotti is hiding in the well in the garden of Cavaradossi’s villa. Scarpia orders the torture to cease, and Cavaradossi is brought in suffering terribly from his wounds. But news arrives of Napoleon’s victory at Marengo, and Cavaradossi revives enough to express his joy. This is enough to sign his death-warrant, and he is taken away for execution. Tosca begs Scarpia for mercy, and Spoletta brings more news: Angelotti has been found, but at the moment of his arrest he killed himself. Scarpia tells Tosca that it will soon be her lover’s turn to die, unless she is prepared to exchange her favours for his life. Tosca agrees to the bargain, and Scarpia tells Spoletta to arrange a mock-execution, but uses a secret message to indicate that the execution should in fact take place. Spoletta goes. Scarpia signs a warrant for a safe-conduct for Tosca and Cavaradossi, but as he turns to embrace her she seizes a knife from the supper-table, and stabs him to death.
The Platform of the Castel Sant’Angelo
An hour before dawn, a shepherd boy is heard singing in the distance. Cavaradossi is brought up from his cell, and turns his last thoughts to Tosca. She arrives, having left the Palace undetected, and tells him how she has arranged a fake execution with Scarpia and then killed him. He must feign death at the fusillade, and lie there until she comes to tell him that it is safe to go. They dream of their future happiness together. The soldiers appear on the platform and hold the execution. After the firing-party has left, Tosca tells Cavaradossi to rise, but he does not answer her. To her horror, she realises that he is dead and she has been betrayed. She hears Scarpia’s men pursuing her: they have found his body. Spoletta and the soldiers rush onto the platform to arrest her, but she climbs the parapet and leaps to her death.
Conductor Lothar Koenigs (21 Sep; 15, 19 & 22 Oct; 12 & 16 Nov)
Simon Phillippo (28 Sept; 3, 8,12 & 26 Oct; 5, 9, 19, 23, 26 & 30 Nov)
Director Michael Blakemore
Designer Ashley Martin-Davis
Lighting Designer Mark Henderson
Floria Tosca Mary Elizabeth Williams
Mario Cavaradossi Gwyn Hughes Jones
Scarpia Claudio Otelli
Angelotti Daniel Grice
Sacristan William Robert Allenby
All performances start at 7.15pm (except 8 & 12 October at 7pm)
Running time approximately 2 hours 45 minutes including two intervals
Sung in Italian with surtitles in English (and Welsh in Cardiff, Swansea and Llandudno)
Co-production with State Opera of South Australia