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Theatre / Tosca

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Tosca is an opera by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, based on a play by Victorien Sardou. It is often cited as an operatic version of Grand Guignol horror-melodrama, the forerunner of today's splatter movies.

On the eve of Napoleon's occupation of Rome, the painter Mario Cavaradossi hides his friend, escaped political prisoner Cesare Angelotti, from the police. Unfortunately this brings both him and his sweetheart, the singer Floria Tosca, to the attention of the villainous chief of police Scarpia. Scarpia arrests Cavaradossi and demands that Tosca spend the night with him, then the painter's execution will be fake, and the lovers will be able to leave Rome. Tosca agrees, but when Scarpia comes to embrace her, she stabs him in the heart with a knife. Unfortunately, Scarpia did not intend to release Cavaradossi at all, and the execution turns out to be real. Seeing her lover dead and Scarpia's henchmen running to get her, Tosca leaps off the parapet of the Castel Sant'Angelo, crying that she will meet Scarpia before God.

Oh, and did we mention that poor Angelotti commits suicide somewhere in the middle of the second act? This gets us 4 dead people by the end of the opera.

Yeah. Opera really is angsty business, folks.

Tosca is the Trope Namer for:

Tropes featured include:

  • All for Nothing: In order: Cavaradossi's efforts to protect and hide Angelotti, even while being brutally tortured, are undone by Tosca being pressured into revealing Angelotti's location. Her unwilling betrayal of Cavaradossi's trust is then made worthless by Cavaradossi mocking Scarpia about Napoleon's victory, sealing his fate. Napoleon’s victory also renders the risk that Angelotti took meaningless, as Angelotti was jailed for leading a puppet government for the French which will be restored within days; if he'd just stayed put for a little while longer, he would have been freed anyway. Meanwhile, the very government that Scarpia works for will soon be made defunct as the French take over, and Angelotti kills himself rather than be captured again, rendering the whole affair pointless. And Tosca's daring murder of Scarpia achieves nothing, as he lied and Cavaradossi is still executed by firing squad. Broken and about to be arrested for killing Scarpia, Tosca has nothing left but suicide.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Baron Scarpia against the cavalier Cavaradossi and the commoner Tosca.
  • Asshole Victim: Scarpia dies after being stabbed by Tosca with a dinner knife. Aside from his men, no one will mourn the nefarious and corrupt chief of the police.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Even when he's dead.
  • Bad Liar: Tosca does her best to claim that Cavaradossi was alone when she found him at the villa, but Scarpia riles her into being far too defensive and unconvincing.
  • Beaten By A Girl: After Tosca stabs Scarpia, she stands over him and gloats that the feared chief of police was killed by a woman.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed/Driven to Suicide: Tosca leaps off a parapet at the very end of the opera. Angelotti kills himself off-stage rather than go back to prison.
  • Break the Cutie: The universe really, really has it in for poor Tosca.
  • BSoD Song:
    • Cavaradossi's E lucevan le stelle.
    • Tosca's Vissi d'arte.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: The reason for why Cavaradossi doesn't let Tosca in on his plan to protect Angelotti; she naturally tells everything to her confessor.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Scarpia isn't shy to admit that what he does is evil, showing sadistic pleasure in the process. He even thinks of himself as Iago.
  • Casting Gag: Scarpia comparing himself to Iago is especially funny because most performers who sing Scarpia also sing Iago in Verdi's Otello (while the Cavaradossis usually are familiar with the role of Otello and the Toscas with the role of Desdemona).
  • Churchgoing Villain: Scarpia is one. He considers himself a devout Catholic and ends his Evil Gloating monologue in the Te Deum scene by suddenly remembering he's in church, crying out "Tosca, you make me forget God!" and joining in the hymn with sincere devotion. If the singer playing Scarpia is an effective actor, this moment should come off as horrific even if you know the story.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Tosca's jealousy seems to be as well-known as her singing voice.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Cavaradossi gets this from Scarpia's goons, while Tosca is made to listen to his screams.
  • Dies Wide Open: Although the stage directions do not necessarily call for Scarpia to die with his eyes open, Cornell MacNeil "died" in just that manner in the Zeffirelli production at the Met in 1985.
  • Dirty Old Man: In some versions Scarpia is a man in his 50s-60s who lusts after Tosca, a woman in her 30s and sometimes even younger.
  • Downer Ending: Both Scarpia and Cavaradossi end up dead by the end.
  • The Dragon: Spoletta to Scarpia.
  • The Dreaded: All of Rome trembles in fear before Scarpia.
  • Due to the Dead:
    • When Scarpia hears of Angelotti's suicide, he orders his men to hang his body from the gallows anyway.
    • After Tosca kills Scarpia, she lights two candles for him and places a cross on his body.
  • During the War: The Napoleonic Wars, to be specific. The outcome of the Battle of Marengo is a plot point.
  • Evil Reactionary: Scarpia is a police chief trying to oppress the revolutionaries who were creating a republic, in the name of the status quo.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Scarpia, the villainous chief of police, is a baritone. Sometimes he's played by a basso cantante. One of the best-known early Scarpias was Antonio Scotti, who was one of these.
  • Exact Words: With Tosca watching, Scarpia instructs an underling that Cavaradossi's execution is to be faked "like Palmieri's was". We never get any further details about Palmieri, but the implication is that Palmieri's death was just as real as Cavaradossi's turns out to be.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entire opera takes place in the afternoon, evening, and early morning of 17 and 18 June 1800.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Scarpia remains eloquent and polite even as he tries to pull a Scarpia Ultimatum.
  • Forced to Watch: Tosca is made to listen to Cavaradossi being tortured. In one modern-dress production, Scarpia shows her the torture via livestream.
  • The Ghost: Angelotti's sister, who helps him evade the authorities and is subsequently suspected by Tosca of being Cavaradossi's other woman, is mentioned a lot in the first act, we see her picture, but she never actually appears.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: For Tosca in most productions, especially her Act II dress. Here are some examples:
  • Good Bad Girl: Tosca
  • Hiding Behind Religion: Scarpia. Contrast with Tosca's sincere faith.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Right before the "fake" execution, Tosca and Cavaradossi playfully tease each other and make plans about their happy future together. This can depend on the production. In some stagings, Cavaradossi's expression and body language imply that he knows he will be killed and is putting on an act to cheer up Tosca.note 
    • In the second act, after Vissi d'arte, Scarpia behaves as if he's moved by Tosca's pleading… for about ten seconds.
  • Incredibly Long Note: "Vittoria! Vitto.....ria!" Tenors use this moment to show off and get into the Guinness Book of World Recordsnote . Franco Corelli, Placido Domingo and Giuseppe di Stefano (among others) were notorious for this. Corelli could hold out so long that Tito Gobbi as Scarpia used to shake his head and walk slowly over to stage left. Some conductors halt the orchestra for audience applause, others proceed as normal.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: As Scarpia writes the letter of safe conduct before he can have his way with Tosca, the libretto calls for her to chug the glass of wine he poured for her earlier, to help her endure what's to follow. And in doing so, she spots the knife...
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: The shepherd in Act III.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Scarpia has all these gorgeously melodic tunes. He's singing about his plots to rape Tosca, kill Cavaradossi, and generally be as nasty as possible. This all happens while he's in a church, with the congregation singing the "Te Deum" right behind him. His second Villain Song, Ha più forte sapore, in which he sings about how he likes to win women by force, is also quite lovely to hear.
  • Moral Myopia: Scarpia. Celebrating loudly (the choirboys) and/or swearing in church? (Floria, "lo giuro!") Scandalous! Planning murder and rape while still in church? Perfectly all right.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Floria Tosca herself in some productions. See Angela Gheorghiu, Sonya Yoncheva, Ainhoa Arteta, Alexia Voulgaridou, and Kristine Opolais's versions.
  • Multitasked Conversation: See Exact Words.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: Scarpia towards Tosca, so very often.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Tosca spends most of the first act convinced that Cavaradossi is cheating on her, because he won't tell her about Angelotti.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: The "Te Deum" underscoring Scarpia's Villain Song.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Cavaradossi is hiding Cesare Angelotti from the authorities. Tosca finds a fan, dropped by Angelotti's sister when hiding food and clothes, and immediately assumes Cavaradossi is cheating on her. If Cavaradossi had told Tosca the truth about Angelotti right from the start they might have been able to throw Scarpia off the scent, although he has a point that Tosca always tells everything to her confessor.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Scarpia claims he has no skill in wooing women in the conventional manner, and little interest in them once he has made use of them. He is however turned on when they hate him and resist him.
  • Rash Equilibrium: Scarpia doesn't actually pardon Cavaradossi, as he promised Tosca; Tosca kills Scarpia rather than sleep with him as she promised in order to get the pardon.
  • Sadist: Scarpia admits that he takes pleasure in forcing a woman to do his bidding. The torture sequence is also a valid proof of that.
  • Sarcastic Clapping: When Tosca furiously asks how Scarpia can laugh at her torment and he replies "Tosca was never this tragic on the stage!", singers playing Scarpia often give a mocking round of applause. In some productions, he also applauds her after Vissi d'arte (which often adds an extra bit of dark humour, since whoever's playing Tosca will almost always have gotten a thunderous round of sincere applause from the audience just beforehand).
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: The Trope Namer. Scarpia tells Tosca that he'll pardon Cavaradossi if she sleeps with him. He's lying, of course.
  • Scenery Porn: Sant'Andrea della Valle, the Farnese Palace and the Castel Sant'Angelo; Puccini seems determined to prove that there's no place more beautiful than Rome for a story of torture, murder, and suicide. And most sets seem to replicate the splendor of those places. This is especially true for the Zeffirelli production at the Met in 1985. And Sir David McVicar's 2018 production is celebrated for the beauty of its meticulously detailed, historically accurate sets (designed by John MacFarlane).
  • See You in Hell: Kind of — just before jumping off the parapet, Tosca cries that she'll next be meeting Scarpia before God, with the implication that they'll both be answering for their crimes.
  • Shot at Dawn: Cavaradossi's execution.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Tosca has a moment of this in act 2 after Scarpia demands that she has sex with him.
  • Shout Out: To Shakespeare: Scarpia compares himself to Iago in his first scene. You know, just in case you were confused about who the villain here was.
  • The Sociopath: Scarpia. He lusts after (at least in some versions) the much younger Tosca and plans to force her to unwillingly sleep with him in exchange for her lover's life. Which he will have killed anyway. He's still considered nowadays the most depraved, cruel and despicable villain in the Opera universe.
  • Staged Shooting: Cavaradossi's firing squad is a subversion — Scarpia tells Tosca that the guns will be loaded with blanks, but he pulls a variation on You Said You Would Let Them Go instead.
  • Tenor Boy: Cavaradossi
    • Cavaradossi is a dramatic tenor, which takes him out of the "boy" class. It requires a fairly strong set of pipes to do him justice. note 
  • These Hands Have Killed: This trope gets a whole duet devoted to it.
  • Together in Death: Tosca throws herself over the ramparts after her lover Cavaradossi gets killed. And in doing so, she calls the name of Scarpia, not her lover.
  • Villain Song: Scarpia gets one at the end of the first act. And another in the beginning of the second.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Both Cavaradossi and Scarpia mention Floria's dark eyes with admiration.
  • White Shirt of Death: Cavaradossi in the third act.