It’s June, 1800. Napoleon Bonaparte is on the march and the French Revolutionary Wars have spread to Italy. Rome is in chaos and Baron Scarpia, the sadistic chief of police, is in charge. He’s a tool of the monarchy, obsessed with quashing any attempts by anti-royalists to establish secular rule in Rome.

Act One

The Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle

Cesare Angelotti, a political prisoner held for treason, has escaped. He seeks refuge in the Attavanti Chapel where his friend, Mario Cavaradossi, a liberal-minded artist accompanied by a fussy Sacristan, is painting a portrait of Mary Magdalene. The image reminds Mario of his love for Floria Tosca, a prominent and tempestuous diva. (“Recondita armonia”) Angelotti’s sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, has hidden a basket of food and a disguise for her brother in the church. Tosca is jealous when she sees that the model for the portrait is the Marchesa. Mario assures Tosca of his love and they make plans to meet later. (“Non la sospiri la nostra casetta.”) He gives Angelotti keys to his villa and tells him to hide in the well in the garden.

A booming cannon signals that the prisoner’s escape has been discovered and both Cavaradossi and Angelotti hurry away. The Sacristan returns with battlefield news: Napoleon’s army has been defeated. The gayety among church choristers dissolves and the mood darkens as police chief Scarpia enters, looking for Angelotti. Tosca returns and Scarpia plays to her jealous nature, telling her that Mario has run away with the Marchesa. He shows her the Marchesa’s fan as evidence. Tosca, furious, leaves for the villa, followed by Spoletta, one of Scarpia’s henchmen. The final scene is a chilling overlay of good and evil. The church congregation and clerics gather for the Te Deum while a gloating Scarpia explains he will eliminate Cavaradossi and have Tosca for himself. (“Oh Tosca. You make me forget God!”)

Act Two

Baron Scarpia’s apartment in the Palazzo Farnese

Scarpia sends a note to Tosca, ordering her to come to his apartment. He reflects that ruthless passion drives him more than love. (“Ha più forte sapore.”) He orders Cavaradossi brought in for questioning. Mario denies knowing anything about Angelotti’s location. He’s taken to an adjoining room and tortured. Tosca arrives and hears Mario’s screams of pain. Tell me where Angelotti is and the torture will end, Scarpia tells Tosca. Unable to bear the cries, Tosca tells Scarpia that Angelotti is hiding in Mario’s garden well. Mario is released and the lovers are briefly reunited as Scarpia learns that the earlier battlefield report was fake news. It was Napoleon’s army that won. “Victory!” shouts Cavaradossi. A livid Scarpia orders the prisoner taken away for execution.

Tosca asks why is God tormenting me when I’ve lived for art. (“Vissi d’arte”) Learning that Angelotti has committed suicide, she pleads for mercy for Mario. Scarpia names his price: Give yourself to me and Mario goes free. Tosca agrees. Since the execution has been ordered, Scarpia says it must go on but he will guarantee that the soldiers in the firing squad use blank ammunition. Tosca asks for a safe passage document to allow the two of them to leave the country. Scarpia agrees and signs the paper. Tosca discovers a knife on the dinner table and as Scarpia attempts to claim his sexual reward, she hisses, “Questo è il bacio di Tosca!” (“This is how Tosca kisses!”) and stabs him to death.

Act Three

The roof of Castel Sant’Angelo

The next morning, shortly before dawn, Mario awaits the executioners. He tries to write a letter to Tosca, thinking he will never see her again. (“E lucevan le stelle.”) Tosca arrives and tells him the plan: The soldiers will be using blank cartridges so pretend to die. Then we’ll flee with Scarpia’s safe conduct pass. The soldiers march in, line up, and fire. Cavaradossi collapses and the soldiers leave. Tosca discovers to her horror that Scarpia has played a final trick. The bullets were real. Meanwhile, the soldiers have discovered Scarpia’s body and have come looking for Tosca. “O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!” she cries. (“Scarpia, we will meet before God.”) With these final words, Tosca hurls herself from the roof.

- Performance notes by Eugene Carlson