Tosca Synopsis: The Story of Puccini's Famous Opera

A Tragic Story of Love and Loss

Puccini's 'Tosca' at the Metropolitan Opera House on Friday, October 25, 2013.This image:Patricia Racette.
Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

Tosca is an opera composed by Giacomo Puccini (composer of EdgarLa Bohème, and Turandot) that premiered on January 14, 1990 at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. The opera takes place in Rome in 1800, during the month of June.


Tosca, ACT I

Inside the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, an escaped Roman prisoner, Cesare Angelotti, bursts through the doors seeking refuge. After he finds a place to hide within the private Attavanti chapel, an old sacristan appears followed by the painter, Mario Cavaradossi. Mario picks up where he left off the day before and resumes painting a picture of Mary Magdalene. With blonde locks of hair, Mario's painting is based on Angelotti's sister, Marchesa Attavanti. Mario has never met Marchesa, but he has seen her about town. As he paints, he takes a small statue of Floria Tosca, a singer and his lover, from his pocket to compare her beauty to that of his painting. After the sacristan mutters disapproval of the painting, he leaves. The escaped prisoner, Angelotti, emerges from his hiding place to speak with Mario. The two have been friends for quite some time and share similar political beliefs. Mario happily greets him and gives him food and drink before quickly pushing him back into hiding as Tosca can be heard approaching the chapel. Tosca is a jealous woman and she takes no effort to hide it. She questions Mario about his faithfulness and love to her before reminding him of their planned rendezvous later that evening. It only takes one look of the painting to send Tosca into a fit of rage. She instantly recognizes the woman in Mario's painting as Marchesa Attavanti. After a bit of explaining and consoling, Mario is able to calm Tosca down. When she leaves the chapel, Angelotti reappears to tell Mario of his planned escape. Mid-explanation, cannons are heard in the distance signaling Angelotti's escape has been discovered. The two men quickly flee to Mario's villa. The sacristan reenters the church followed by a group of choristers that are to sing a Te Deum later that day. It isn't long until the chief of the secret police, Scarpia, and his men rush into the church. The old sacristan is questioned, but the officers are unable to get their answers. When Tosca enters the church again, Scarpia shows her a fan with the Attavanti family crest inscribed on it. Flying into another fit of jealousy, Tosca vows vengeance and rushes to Mario's villa to confront him with his lies. Scarpia, always suspicious of Mario, sends his men to follow Tosca. He then begins to craft a plan to kill Mario and have his way with Tosca.

Tosca, ACT II

In Scarpia's apartment above the Farnese Palace that evening, Scarpia sets his plan into motion and sends a note to Tosca asking her to join him for dinner. Since Scarpia's men were not able to find Angelotti, they bring Mario in for questioning instead. Tosca can be heard singing downstairs as Mario is questioned. When Tosca arrives, Mario instructs her not to say anything before he is taken into another room for torture. Scarpia tells Tosca that she can save Mario from unimaginable pain if she agrees to tell him where Angelotti is hiding. For a while, Tosca remains strong and tells Scarpia nothing. However, when Mario's cries become louder and more desperate, she gives in and tells Scarpia their secret. When Mario is brought back into the room, he becomes furious after finding out Tosca had given Scarpia Angelotti's location. Suddenly, it's announced that Napoleon has won the battle at Marengo - a blow to Scarpia's side, and Mario shouts, "Victory!" Scarpia immediately seizes him and has his men throw him in prison. Finally alone with Tosca, Scarpia tells her she can save her lover's life if she agrees to give herself to him. Tosca breaks free from his advances and sings, "Vissi d'arte." Her whole life she has dedicated to art and love, and for what? To be rewarded with grief and misfortune? Tosca prays to the Lord. Spolleta, one of Scarpia's men, enters the room and tells him that Angelotti killed himself. Scarpia declares that Mario must be executed too unless Tosca gives in to his advances. If she does, Scarpia will stage a mock execution. Tosca finally agrees to the plan on the condition that he will provide safe passage for the two lovers to flee. Scarpia agrees and gives orders to Spolleta that the execution will be fake, before signing the contract the two have drafted. Spolleta shakes his head in acknowledgment and leaves. As Scarpia approaches her for an embrace, she takes out a knife she swiped from his dinner table and stabs him to death. After taking the signed document from his lifeless hands, she places candles next to his body and lays a crucifix on his chest.

Tosca, ACT III

Early before sunrise in the Castel Sant'Angelo, Mario is told he has only one hour of life left. He refuses council with a priest and writes a letter to his beloved Tosca instead. Mario is unable to complete his letter due to a surge of emotion. Moments later Tosca rushes in to tell him all that has happened after he was taken away. Mario, overjoyed, sings to Tosca that her sweet and soft hands have had to kill a man for Mario's life. Tosca explains that the execution will be fake, but he must give a believable performance in order for them to escape freely. Mario is taken away and Tosca is left waiting impatiently. As the execution is carried out and the guns are fired, Mario falls to the ground. Tosca shouts out, happy with his flawless performance. Once everyone leaves, she rushes to Mario to hug him, overjoyed with the new life ahead of them. She tells him to hurry as they must flee town before Scarpia's body is discovered, but Mario does not move. When she bends down to him, she realizes he is dead. Scarpia has betrayed her from beyond the grave. Real bullets were used. Out of great heartbreak, she throws herself over his body and weeps. Cries are heard in the distance when Scarpia's body is discovered. Spolleta and a legion of officers swarm the castle to arrest Tosca. Tosca evades them, and with one last cry, hurls herself out of the castle and plummets to her death.