ACT 1. June 17, 1800. The Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, Rome. As the curtain rises on Puccini’s fifth opera, the orchestra introduces three of the most famous chords in all of music–the theme that represents Baron Scarpia. This is immediately followed by furious music, representing the exhausted Cesare Angelotti, consul of the fallen Roman Republic, who has escaped from Castel Sant’Angelo. Angelotti hides in his family’s chapel in the church, in which his sister has secretly left him food.The comic Sacristan enters, cleaning up the brushes left by the painter, Mario Cavaradossi. Cavaradossi enters and looking at his new painting of Mary Magdalene, he compares the blue-eyed Magdalene to his beloved, dark-eyed Tosca.The Magdalene has been inspired by an unknown young woman who has been coming to the church daily to pray, whois the sister of Angelotti–the Marchesa Attavanti. Angelotti enters and recognizes Cavaradossi as a friend. He gains Mario’s help in hiding from the police just as Tosca is heard outside the church doors. She arranges to meet Mario that evening at his villa. Her jealousy is aroused when she sees the painting of Mary Magdalene. Realizing the Marchesa Attavanti is the inspiration for the Magdalene, accuses him of cheating on her. Cavaradossi assures her that he was only inspired by her religious fervor, and he sends Tosca on her way. Angelotti comes out of hiding and Mario instructs him to go to his villa in the country. Just then, the cannon from Castel Sant’Angelo signals Angelotti’s escape has been discovered. Angelotti and Cavaradossi rush out to avoid Baron Scarpia, chief of police. The Sacristan calls the church choir to announce that Bonaparte has been defeated at Marengo and they have been hired by the Queen to sing a new cantata with the famous Floria Tosca that evening to celebrate.Their revelry is interrupted by Scarpia, who arrives with his henchmen, searching for Angelotti. They question the Sacristan and suspect that Cavaradossi is hiding their escaped prisoner.When Tosca returns to the church to change the evening’s plans, Scarpia inflames her jealousy by using the fan of Angelotti’s sister, which was left in their family chapel, and claims that she is indeed Cavaradossi’s lover.Her jealousy aroused, she vows to rush to the villa and discover the lovers together–exactly what Scarpia wants.The church fills with worshipers coming to offer the Te Deum as the curtain falls.

ACT 2. Evening. Scarpia’s rooms in Palazzo Farnese. Baron Scarpia waits for his henchmen, and for Tosca, who is singing the celebratory cantata. Scarpia muses on his insatiable need to feed his lust and passions. Spoletta enters to inform him that they followed Tosca to the villa but did not find Angelotti. Scarpia’s fury is mollified by the announcement that Cavaradossi has been captured and brought in for questioning. Mario refuses to tell Scarpia and his spies anything. The cantata ended, Tosca enters. Scarpia tortures Cavaradossi to make her reveal Angelotti’s hiding place. Tosca cannot bear to hear Mario suffer from the torture and finally reveals that Angelotti is hidden in the well at the villa. She pleads for Mario’s life and is faced with a choice–give into Scarpia’s lust for her, or watch the man she loves be executed.In the glowing aria Vissi d’arte, she asks God for His pity and help.She agrees to give Scarpia what he wants and while he is writing a letter of safe conduct for her and Cavaradossi, she takes a knife from Scarpia’s table; at the very moment he approaches her to receive his prize, she kills him. She leaves the dead villain in his chambers as she makes her way to the prison, with the letter of safe passage, in order to free Cavaradossi.

ACT 3. 4:00 am.The parapet of Castel Sant’Angelo. Cavaradossi awaits his execution. In the beautiful aria E lucevan le stelle, his only thoughts are of Tosca.Tosca is allowed to see him. She shows him the document that will set them free–but explains that he must go through a mock execution first, so everyone believes he is dead.The two rejoice at this hope for anew life, far from Rome.The execution takes place–but Scarpia has outwitted them–the execution is real.When the guards discover Scarpia’s body and corner Tosca, she climbs the parapet of the tower, and with the invective “Scarpia, we will meet before God”,she hurls herself off the parapet to her death, as the curtain falls.

Meet the Composer

Giacomo Puccini (1856-1924)

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in Lucca in Tuscany, Italy on December 22, 1858 into a family of five generations of church organists, choirmasters and composers. His father died when Giacomo was five years old, and he was sent to study with his uncle Fortunato Magi, who considered him to be a poor student. As a teenager, Puccini served as an organist to the area churches and played the piano as entertainment at social events. In March 1876, the twenty-year old walked thirty kilometers to attend a performance of Verdi’s latest opera, Aida. This event changed his life and he decided that he would make opera his life’s work.The greatest influence in Puccini’s life was his mother, who petitioned and received a grant to send her son to the Milan Conservatory, where he worked diligently at his music and received 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 did not win, Le Villi was later staged in 1884 at the Teatro Dal Verme and it caught the attention of Giulio Ricordi, head of G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers, who commissioned a second opera, Edgar, in 1889.

Edgar failed: it was a bad story and Fontana’s libretto was poor. This may have had an effect on Puccini’s thinking because when he began his next opera, Manon Lescaut, he announced that 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 with the opera, 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 Bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly.

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.


James Meena


James Marvel


Michael Baumgarten

Lighting and Projection Designer

Emily Jarrell Urbanek

Director of Music Preparation

Martha Ruskai

Wig and Makeup Designer

Valerie Wheeler

Production Stage Manager

Ease into Opera with the Student Night Experience

Student Night at the Opera 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!

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