Why is Tosca One of the World’s Most Famous Operas?

Photo by Corey Weaver

This season, the San Francisco Opera is presenting Tosca for the 39th time since they were founded in 1923! Although this sounds like a lot, they aren’t the only opera company that has performed it countless times. Tosca continues to be one of the most famous operas known around the world. But why? Among many reasons such as the music, the dramatic/rollercoaster storyline and its historical origin, this opera’s popularity has been ultimately driven and influenced by the multiple operatic divas that have played the leading role both on and off the stage.

Scroll below to see who they are…

Photo by Victor Santiago

The Music

When Puccini sat down to write his opera, he had a special person in mind, Hariclea Darcleé. Hariclea was the most famous sopranos of her time whose career spanned over three decades. She was best known for her ability to handle challenging roles and Puccini knew it – hence the intensity of the arias.

Since then, the role has matured and evolved as other divas played the character. Over time, this elevated the role into an aspirational level of achievement for sopranos. If you are asked to take on the role as Tosca, there is almost a sense of “I made it” in the opera world. Throughout the century, audiences have been drawn in to see who does it next and how will it be performed differently. Some of the major sopranos that have brought in the biggest crowds and buzz around Tosca was/is Claudia MuzioMaria CallasMaria Guleghina  and Carmen Giannattasio (seen above, who SF Chronicle calls, “The Lady Gaga of Opera”).

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The Staging

Soprano Maria Jeritza was known as Puccini’s favorite Tosca. In 1914, Maria stumbled upon this fame (quite literally) when she mistakenly fell right before her cue to sing the famous aria, “Vissi d’arte”. Not able to get up, she sang it while lying on the ground!

The audience was astonished by her ability to sing from an unprecedented position and the critics raved about her ability to continue on. Coincidently enough, Puccini was in the audience when it happened and fell in love with this impromptu and dramatic feat. Ever since sopranos have been singing the aria in the same way – lying down or slouched over – and audiences are continuously amazed! Can you sing at you the top of your lungs and project to a giant hall while lying down? Go ahead, give it a try…

The Directing!

From October 3-30, 2018, San Francisco Opera is presenting a new production of Tosca that has been spearheaded by the amazing female Director, Shawna Lucey! Even in 2018, a female Director is very uncommon so it’s gratifying to see San Francisco Opera equalize the leadership opportunities and empower those with talent, regardless of their gender.

Shawna has been tasked with reinventing the stagecraft, costume designs, acting, etc. to refresh this 118-year-old opera for current audiences. So essentially, she has to put herself in Puccini’s shoes and think about how he would have portrayed this opera today while respecting the historical elements and storyline. Talk about a task and talk about influence! “Tosca is a piece for today like almost never before,” says Shawna. We can’t wait to see her “take” on the opera and root her on for pioneering and achieving such an undertaking!

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Article References: Vashon Opera, SFOpera, Wikipedia

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Parker Coomans

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