Senior Music


A triumph of visual and singing splendor

By Bruce Menzies

Lust. Betrayal. Murder. Nothing says drama quite like Puccini’s Tosca, one of the most popular operas of all time. Amid an unstable 1800s Italy, fiery diva Tosca must fight to save her rebellious lover from an evil police chief. Wait! More about that later.

In this fall issue of Senior Moments Newspaper, I’m taking a break from reporting on the crooners of the big band era and the champ-ions of the Great American Songbook to discuss a brand new musical subject for me—opera.

Thirty days ago I couldn’t have described to you the difference between “opera” and “opry.” I might have told you one was composed by Puc­cini or Verdi and the other by Hank Williams or Porter Wag-goner. (Today, I still don’t know the difference between Yoko Ono and Yo-Yo Ma—but I’m learnings.)

This summer I had the privilege of watching my first opera of tele-vision. PBS Great Performances broadcast Tosca from the Metro-politan Opera in New York City. This opera was a ginormous produc-tion of big music, period costumes, and scenery to help tell an old love story.

Puccini’s Tosca, has proved to be one of the most popular operas since its premiere in 1889. Additionally, Tosca is one of the most lethal of operas. None of the central characters make it to the end alive, hero or villain. (Oops! I probably shouldn’t have told you that!) At its core, Tosca tells the tale of an escaped prisoner, doomed lovers, and a jealous Chief of Police. It features romance over politics; a heroic painter, a despicable ruler, and an opera superstar, Tosca herself.

Act I begins in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in the city of Rome. An escaped political prisoner, Angelotti, takes refuge in a secret hiding place in the church. When the painter Mario Cavaradossi arrives to work on his mural, the fugitive asks for and receives aid and abetment. Mario conceals this aid to the fugitive from his jealous opera star Floria Tosca and as a result, the sinister Chief of Police, Scarpia, finds it easy to arouse Tosca’s suspicions of Mario’s bizarre behavior.

Fast forward to the end where the fugitive ­commits suicide rather than execution; Mario is arrested and tortured, and the sinister Police Chief, Scarpia, is murdered by Tosca when he gives in to his fifthly lusts and attempts to ply his charm to the beautiful object of his affection—Tosca.

In the final scene, Mario is executed and Tosca, when pursued for her murder of Scarpia, flings herself from the roof of the fortress—to her death.

Hey, this is opera so there has to be tragedy doesn’t there? And, this is all done in Italian (with English subtitles) in a space of just a couple of hours. But did I mention there’s big music, big scenery, and really neat costumes; basically a triumph of visual and singing splendor.

One person has said, “There is plenty here to intrigue everyone—seasoned opera lovers, musical novices, history buffs, and Italophiles.”

Publisher’s Note: Next issue, I promise to be back talking about the Great American Songbook and the crooners that helped keep it alive.

Fun facts you didn’t know about Tosca.

The above facts were taken from Tosca's Rome: The Play and the Opera in Historical Perspective by Susan Vandiver Nicassio. Copyright notice: © 2000 by Susan Vandiver Nicassio. This text appears on the University of Chicago Press Website by permission of the author. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law and agreements.

GIACOMO PUCCINI, whose full name is Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini, was born on December 22, 1858 in Lucca, Tuscany (Italy) and died on November 29, 1924 in Brussels, Belgium. Puccini is considered by many to be the last composer of Italian Romantic opera. In addition to Tosca (1900), he is also known for La Bohème (1896), Madama Butterfly (1904), and Turandot, which was left uncomplete.

Enlarge image Visit the Metropolitan Opera Website.

Big scenery from Puccini’s Tosca as performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Image from the Michigan Opera Theatre.

Read more about TOSCA, the opera. Go to the Website of the church.

Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, Rome.


Giacomo Puccini.

For detailed information about the opera Tosca, view the Website from Robert Walport’s, The Opera 101 ( by clicking on the above image.

Here’s the cast from Tosca as performed at the Metropolitan Opera. Click on any image to learn more.

Learn more of Sonya Yoncheva

Sonya Yoncheva played starring role as soprano Floria Tosca. Photo: Julian Hargreaves / SonyClassical

Learn more of Vittorio Grigolo

Vittorio Grigolo, played tenor Mario Cavaradossi, the painter and love interest of Tosca.
Photo by Wikipedia.

Learn more of Zeljko Lucic.

Have you ever wanted to visit the Met? Click on this image to see what that would be like.

Visit the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

Read more about the history of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Željko Lučić plays baritone Baron Scarpia, chief of police.