Giacomo Puccini

Opera in three acts
Libretto: Luigi Illica, Giuseppe Giacosa based on the play by Victorien Sardou
World premiere: 14 January 1900, Rome
Premiere of this production: 23 February 2019, Polish National Opera, Teatr Wielki, Warsaw
In the original Italian with Polish surtitles

Please note that certain seats in the Gallery may have restricted view of the surtitles.​​

Not unlike Picasso or Klimt, Puccini painted a series of fascinating and multifaceted female portraits. His Manon, Mimi, Tosca, Cio-Cio-San, Magda, and the seemingly frigid Turandot who secretly pines for love, continue to spellbind opera audiences across the world. As time goes by, the characters do not lose any of their distinct flavour, appeal, and relevance, although their stories are set is long-gone realities. Ever since its 1900 premiere at the Teatro Constanzi in Rome, Tosca has sold-out nearly everywhere it was put on. The tragic love story involving blackmail, cruelty, different dimensions of humanity and its lack, crime, and amoral attitudes fascinates audiences that become engulfed by this deadly love tornado.

Puccini had aspired to write an opera to a libretto based on Victorien Sardou’s text since 1889. That was when he first saw Tosca on stage with Sarah Bernhardt in the lead part. He was not a recognised composer back then, which reduced his chances of obtaining the commission. The competition was fierce: Verdi himself was interested in the material. Prominent Italian editor and musician Giulio Ricordi recommended Alberto Franchetti for the task. The young composer did not come to an agreement with librettist Luigi Illika and the job was given to Puccini.

Originally set in Rome at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, in Barbara Wysocka’s staging the story moves to Italy of the 1970s, a period of violence inflicted by the Red Brigades in response to the neo-fascist activities of the 1960s. The political turmoil, abuses of power, impotence of the state, social rebellion, violence and terror seems to affect the lovers’ tragic fate.

Although the eponymous Tosca is not a femme fatale, her impulsive actions lead to the demise of the man she loves. Faced with a tragic choice, the more the tries to avert calamity, the more imminent it becomes. Driven by the truest love, she unwittingly brings disaster to herself and her beloved. Regardless of her strength of character, courage, and noble intentions, she becomes both the victim and the perpetrator.

The compelling atmosphere is underscored by Puccini’s extraordinary music, full of contradictions, twists and turns that perfectly render the broad array of emotions unfolding on stage: piano and forte, bel canto and scream, whispering and dramatic solo parts, love and death. The contrasts are a proof of the composer’s ability to express both violence and delicacy. The opera also amazes with arresting arias sung by the leads: Floria Tosca’s ‘Vissi d’arte’ and Mario Cavaradossi’s ‘E lucevan le stelle’.

The atmosphere surrounding the premiere of Puccini’s work was tense owing to the developments across Europe and in Rome itself. The cast had received threats in their post and a rumour was going around that someone had planted a bomb at the theatre. The auditorium was in turmoil and panic. The performance was stopped and started anew. Despite the incidents, Tosca proved a success. The audience demanded encores. Today, the piece is among the most frequently staged operas internationally, along with Carmen, The Magic Flute, La bohème, Eugene Onegin, and La traviata. This true masterpiece of the late romantic period returned on the stage of the Polish National Opera in 2019.




  • Rome in the 1970s, a time of escalating political violence, street clashes between rightists, leftists and riot police, bomb attacks, unexplained murders and kidnappings for ransom.,

    ACT 1

    9 a.m. Mario Cavaradossi, a painter, is working in a historical chapel, renovating a fresco depicting Mary Magdalene. He does not know that Cesare Angelotti, an escaped prisoner, is hiding in the church. The sacristan helps the painter get set up, then leaves. Thinking he is alone, Angelotti steps out and bumps into Cavaradossi, who promises to help him. Just then, however, the painter’s jealous lover, famous singer Floria Tosca, arrives. Cavaradossi hides the fugitive. Seeing the painter’s confusion, Tosca suspects him of cheating on her. Cavaradossi convinces her of his love and sends her away, then he and Angelotti leave the church. 

    11 a.m. The sacristan brings news of the alleged victory of the regime’s troops over the revolutionary forces. Orders are given to prepare for the Te Deum and a special evening concert at which Tosca is to sing. Suddenly Scarpia, Rome’s police prefect, arrives with his men. He searches the church for the runaway; among many traces of Angelotti’s presence he nds a fan belonging to Countess Attavanti, Angelotti’s sister, who most likely helped her brother hide. 

    11:30 a.m. Tosca returns, looking for Cavaradossi, but instead meets Scarpia, who is clearly trying to win her favour and suggests that Cavaradossi is having an affair with Countess Attavanti. This reduces Tosca to rage and despair. When the jealous Tosca runs from the church to have it out with her lover at his villa, Scarpia orders that she be followed. The first act ends with Scarpia’s aria in which he expresses his desire. 

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    ACT 2

    8 p.m. 
    The police headquarters, Palazzo Farnese. Scarpia is thinking about Tosca. Spoletta arrives and gives Scarpia a report on the search at Cavaradossi’s villa: he failed to find the fugitive, but he arrested the painter. In another part of the build- ing, Tosca’s concert begins, broad- cast on television. Cavaradossi is led in – asked about having helped Angelotti, he denies it and points out the lack of any evidence. 

    9 Tosca enters. Cavaradossi is led away for further questioning and torture. Blackmailing Tosca with her lover’s suffering, Scarpia tries to get her to tell him where the prison- er is hiding. Under great pressure, Tosca breaks down and betrays the secret: Cavaradossi hid Angelotti in a well in the garden. Sciarrone, one of Scarpia’s thugs, brings news of the defeat suffered by the regime’s forces. Cavaradossi jeers at Scarpia, rejoicing at his defeat. He is sentenced to death. 

    midnight Tosca is alone with Scarpia, who confesses that he has long been watching her and that she is the object of his desire. The shocked Tosca begs him to release Cavaradossi. But the price is high; the singer ultimately agrees to an arrangement in which, in exchange for Cavaradossi’s life and a pass allowing him to leave Rome, she will give herself to Scarpia. At the culminating point, Tosca kills Scarpia, takes the safe conduct he signed and flees. 



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    ACT 3

    3 a.m.
     Sant’Angelo Castle – the prison where Cavaradossi awaits his execution. The condemned man refuses to meet with a priest, but wants to write a final letter to Tosca. Tosca rushes in. She tells him about killing Scarpia and about an idea that could save her lover’s life: she instructs him how to fall after the ring squad execution which, according to Scarpia’s final order, is to be a hoax. 

    4 a.m. Cavaradossi is taken to the execution site. Tosca watches the preparations for the execution and then the fake death by ring squad. But when she runs, filled with hope, to her beloved, she discovers that Scarpia tricked her and Mario is dead. The police rush in, having discovered Scarpia’s murder. Tosca breaks away from the guards and commits suicide. 


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