Audiences love it when a villain gets what he has coming to him. We get that satisfaction in Tosca. But tragically, the bad guy isn’t the only one who dies.

Love and death are principal themes of opera, and there’s plenty of both in Tosca – a tale of love’s triumph over politics set in Rome in 1800.

Tosca is a political thriller whose action is set over an explosive 24 hours. It’s full of love and lust, passion and jealousy. The main characters are a patriotic artist, a dishonest policeman and the beautiful opera diva – the larger-than-life Tosca.


The action takes place on June 17, 1800, the day of the battle of Marengo between Napoleon and the Royalist general Melas. Each act of Tosca is set in an actual locale in Rome, and each site can be visited to this day.


In the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, Cesare Angelotti, consul of the fallen Roman republic, has escaped from Castel Sant’Angelo. He takes refuge in the church where his sister, Marchesa Attavanti, has hidden some clothes in their family chapel for him. Mario Cavaradossi, a painter and a supporter of the republic, is working in the church on a painting of Mary Magdalene.  Angelotti, recognizing the painter as an old friend and republican sympathizer, gains his help. A commanding voice announces the arrival of Floria Tosca, a famous opera singer and Cavaradossi’s lover.

Tosca is suspicious of the talking she overheard from outside the church. She accuses Cavaradossi of cheating on her. Then, when she sees the new Magdalene he is painting – and recognizes the Marchesa Attavanti – her jealousy seems to be confirmed. Mario tells her he saw the Marchesa in the church praying, and her prayerful demeanor inspired him. This appeases Tosca, and they agree to meet at his villa that evening after she sings at the Royal Palace.

Meanwhile, Angelotti’s escape has been discovered, and a cannon is fired to raise the alarm. Cavaradossi instructs Angelotti to hide in the well at his villa on the outskirts of Rome.  Cavaradossi decides to go with him to his villa, and the two men leave the church. The sacristan enters with news of Napoleon’s defeat at Marengo. He tells the church choir to prepare to sing a new cantata in celebration that evening with the famous Floria Tosca.

Just then, Baron Scarpia, chief of police, enters. The discovery of a fan belonging to Marchesa Attavanti, coupled with Cavaradossi’s disappearance, persuade Scarpia that the painter has assisted Angelotti in his escape. Tosca returns to change the evening’s arrangements with her lover and is surprised to find him no longer in the church. Scarpia uses the fan to suggest that she has been deceived – that the fan proves Cavaradossi was in the church with the Marchesa and that they have left together. In a fit of jealousy and despair, Tosca leaves to root out the supposed lovers – and Scarpia sends his henchmen to follow her. The church fills with worshipers who offer the Te Deum, an ancient Latin Christian hymn.



Through his open office window at the Farnese Palace, Scarpia hears the concert at which Tosca is supposed to be singing the new cantata – but she is late and the cantata is delayed. He sends a note to be delivered the moment she arrives at the palace.  Spoletta arrives to tell him they followed Tosca to Cavaradossi’s villa – that they did not find Angelotti but they have brought Cavaradossi in for questioning.

The painter denies he is hiding Angelotti, as the sound of the cantata, now with Tosca singing, is heard through the open window. Following the concert, Tosca enters, responding to Scarpia’s note. Cavaradossi hardly has time to tell her to keep silent before he is led into a secret room to be tortured.

Unable to stand the sound of his screams, Tosca breaks down and reveals Angelotti’s hiding place. Cavaradossi’s outburst of anger at her, and defiance of Scarpia is interrupted by news that the earlier report was wrong and that Napoleon has defeated Melas at Marengo. Cavaradossi’s ensuing hymn of liberty ensures his execution, and he is led away.

Scarpia now tells Tosca there is one way she can save her Mario – and that is to make love to him. Scarpia dangles the image of the gallows before the terrified Tosca. She agrees to his demand – but only if he first releases Cavaradossi. He says he can’t publicly release him, but that he will arrange for a simulated execution. Once accomplished, Tosca and her lover can leave Rome. To prove his (alleged) good will, he signs a passage of safe conduct for them both. As he is writing, Tosca grabs a knife – and at the moment of Scarpia’s embrace – she kills him.  She takes the note from the dead man’s fist, places two candles beside him and a crucifix on his chest as she slowly leaves the room.


At the tower of the Castel Sant’Angelo, near dawn, Cavaradossi is brought from his cell.  His last thoughts are of Tosca. To his surprise, she is allowed to see him, and she tells him everything has been arranged – all he needs to do is go through the mock execution, and they will be free. Incredulous, Cavaradossi makes her tell him the entire story – and she reveals that she killed Scarpia in desperation. They think of their future happiness, far from Rome, across the sea.

The firing squad arrives and Tosca tells Mario to pretend to fall down at the first shot. The shots are fired and he seems to comply. Once the guards have left, however, Tosca runs to him only to discover that the execution was real. Voices can be heard approaching; the guards have discovered Scarpia’s body.  Cornered, Tosca runs to the parapet and jumps from the heights of the castle with the cry, “Scarpia, we will meet before God.”

About the Composer


Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in Tuscany, Italy in 1858 into a family of five generations of church organists, choirmasters and composers. His father died when Giacomo was 5 years old, and he was sent to study with his uncle Fortunato Magi, who considered him a poor student.

As a teenager, Puccini served as an organist at the area churches and played the piano as entertainment at social events. In 1876, the 23-year-old walked nearly 20 miles to attend a performance of Verdi’s latest opera success, Aida. This event changed his life: He decided to make opera his life’s work.

The greatest influence in Puccini’s life was his mother, who petitioned for and received a grant to send her son to the Milan Conservatory, where he earned his diploma in 1883. While studying at the Conservatory, Puccini obtained a libretto from Ferdinando Fontana, and entered a competition for a one-act opera in 1882. Although he didn’t win, Le Villi was staged in 1884 at the Teatro Dal Verme, where it caught the attention of Giulio Ricordi, the head of G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers, who commissioned a second opera, Edgar, in 1889.

Edgar failed, in part because Fontana’s libretto wasn’t great. This may have had an effect on Puccini’s thinking because when Puccini began his next opera, Manon Lescaut, he announced he would write his own libretto so that “no fool of a librettist” could spoil it. Ricordi persuaded him to accept Leoncavallo as his librettist, but Puccini soon asked Ricordi to remove him from the project. Four other librettists were then involved, due mainly to Puccini constantly changing his mind about the structure of the piece. It was almost by accident that the final two, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, came together to complete the opera.

They remained with Puccini for his next three operas and probably his greatest successes: La Boheme, Tosca and Madama Butterfly.

His other famed operas include Turandot (1926) – unfinished at the time of Puccini’s death and later completed by Franco Alfano, one of his protégés.

Puccini preferred his home in the country to hectic city life and enjoyed hunting and long walks through the countryside. He was a lifelong smoker, particularly of cigars, and in 1924 was diagnosed with throat cancer. He underwent surgery, which left him unable to speak. He died of a heart attack four days later.


James Meena


Michael Capasso


Adolph Hohenstein

Scenery and Costume Designer

Michael Baumgarten

Lighting Designer

Martha Ruskai

Wig and Makeup Designer

Valerie Wheeler

Production Stage Manager

Ease into Opera with the Student Night Experience

Student Night is an unforgettable outing for K-12 students, families and traditional school and homeschool groups. With low cost tickets, some of the best seats in the Belk Theater, and timeless tales set to incredible music, Student Night is the perfect cultural experience for the Charlotte region’s youth!


  • Pre-Opera performances by local students
  • Q&A with cast members at intermission
  • English supertitles above the stage
  • Youth Guides to help you make the most of your evening
  • Great prices, great seats, and of course – great music!