Puccini had toyed with setting Victorien Sardou's 'hit' play La Tosca (written for the great actress Sarah Bernhardt) from the early 1890s, but only began serious work following the premiere of La bohème in 1896. He employed Bohème's gifted librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica to streamline Sardou's complicated plot and give depth to his rather stereotypical characters. The opera's premiere at Rome's Teatro Costanzi on 14 January 1900 was indifferently received by the critics, many of whom disliked Tosca's violence. However, the public loved it and it has remained hugely popular.
Puccini portrays the idealism of Tosca and her lover Cavaradossi through radiant, expansive music, including Act I's duet 'Qual occhio al mondo', Cavaradossi's ardent aria 'Recondita armonia' and Tosca's despairing Act II prayer 'Vissi d'arte'. Scarpia's music, by contrast, is dark and terrifying - from the demonic chords that open the opera to the violence of his Act II exchanges with Tosca. Jonathan Kent's production, with Paul Brown's stunning designs, perfectly evokes the troubled atmosphere of Rome in 1800 and Tosca's combination of sensuality and religious sincerity.
Osca may not be as gruelling as some operas, but it grabs your heart from the vital opening chords and never relents
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Tosca is full of drama, excitement and fortissimo music and, due to the punchy plot and soaring orchestration, is a good introduction for those who are less familiar with opera