Puccini's Tosca at The Met

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio
January 27, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — Saturday at noon on Classical Minnesota Public Radio, you can hear the grand opera, Tosca, by Giacomo Puccini. The Metropolitan Opera will broadcast live. As is the case with so many musical masterpieces, the beginning stages of Tosca's creation are as gripping as the music itself.

I wonder how Puccini did it. He wanted something so much, he kept asking until he got it. Doesn't always work that way, does it?

Puccini saw the play La Tosca written by Victorien Sardou twice. He knew immediately he wanted to turn it into an opera. He wrote his publisher, Ricordi, to see if Ricordi could obtain the rights. Nothing came of that request, so Puccini dropped the idea to wrap up a little project called La Boheme. When that achievement was said and done, he again asked Ricordi to contact Sardou for the permission to turn La Tosca into an opera. Insert obstacle here: Sardou already gave the rights to Alberto Franchetti. Franchetti had Luigi Illica write a libretto, and it seemed as though Puccini's dream vanished.

Luckily, Puccini was already a rock star, of sorts. Ricordi talked Franchetti into giving up the rights. I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Ricordi: "So, Alberto, I hear you're making an opera from La Tosca."

Franchetti: "Yeah, my guy already wrote a libretto for it."

Ricordi: "Ever heard of Puccini?"

Franchetti: "Giacomo or Bernardo? My cousin married a Bernardo Puccini."

Ricordi: "Give us the rights."

Franchetti: "Fine."

Puccini got his wish. Aside from dealing with a moody librettist, Giuseppe Giacosa, Puccini's Tosca came together. And Puccini being the ridiculously type-A personality that he was, the details of the opera are impeccable, right down to the order in which the Cardinals process into the cathedral.

Musically speaking, some of the most beautiful arias Puccini ever wrote appear in Tosca. Additionally, Puccini weaves musical motives (leitmotifs) throughout its entirety, borrowing a page from Wagner's compositional toolkit.

And for the drama, there is no shortage. Murder, deception, suicide and heartbreak are mixed with a smidgen of politics (Napoleon's conquests never get old).

You can hear Tosca on Classical MPR Saturday at noon in a live broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera.

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