On 7 May 1889, Puccini wrote to his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, begging him to get Victorien Sardou’s permission for the work he wanted to be his next opera: “I see in this Tosca the opera I need, with no overblown proportions, no elaborate spectacle, nor will it call for the usual excessive amount of music.” Ricordi sent his agent in Paris, to negotiate with Sardou, who preferred that his play be adapted by a French composer. He complained about the reception his play La Tosca had received in Italy, particularly in Milan, and also warned that other composers were interested in the piece. Nonetheless, Ricordi reached terms with Sardou, and assigned the librettist Luigi Illica to write a scenario for an adaptation. In 1891, however, Illica advised Puccini against the project, most likely because he felt the play could not be successfully adapted to a musical form.When Sardou indicated his unease at entrusting his most successful work to the as-yet-unproven Puccini, whose music he did not like, Puccini took offence. He withdrew from the agreement, which Ricordi then assigned to Albreto Franchetti. Franchetti surrendered the rights in May 1895, and in August Puccini signed a contract to resume control of the project.
Tosca premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 14 January 1900. The work, based on Sardou’s 1887 French-language dramatic play, La Tosca, is a melodrama set in Rome in June 1800, when the Kingdom of Naple’s control of Rome was threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. Puccini saw Sardou’s play when it was touring Italy in 1889 and, after some vacillation, obtained the rights to turn the work into an opera in 1895. Turning the wordy French play into a succinct Italian opera took four years, during which the composer repeatedly argued with his librettists and publisher. Despite indifferent reviews from the critics, the opera was an immediate success with the public.