Broadcasts from The Metropolitan Opera continue at 11:00 a.m. this Saturday, January 28th, with a performance of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini, with a libretto in Italian by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, based on the play by Victorien Sardou. The performance will run approximately three hours and twenty minutes.
Tosca might have been an opera by Giuseppe Verdi, and it seems to be only the burden of Verdi's advanced age that held him back. Another composer interested in Victorien Sardou's play was Alberto Franchetti, whose Asrael was heard at the Metropolitan Opera House about half a century ago. Franchetti's intentions for a while were quite serious, and Tosca might have slipped through Puccini's fingers. Tosca would probably have joined the rest of Franchetti's operas, which are no longer performed.
Yet if this had happened Puccini would have nobody but himself to blame. After he completed his second opera, Edgar, he had gone to see a performance of Sardou's play with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role. Although he understood no French, he found himself able to follow the plot simply by watching the stage action. He talked over its operatic possibilities with Giulio Ricordi and Luigi Illica (his publisher and librettist), but then let the matter drop. Manon Lescaut and after that La Bohème were to engage his interest.
For ten years he gave no thought to Tosca until one day a report reached his ears that Franchetti fully intended to make it into an opera. At about this time, Verdi let it be known that nothing but age kept him from writing his own Tosca. So, almost overnight, Puccini decided that he must have the play at all costs.
There are conflicting accounts as to how Puccini came to get the libretto for Tosca. Giulio Ricordi, publisher for both Puccini and Franchetti, had ordered Illica to write the libretto, and when it was finished the libretto went to Franchetti. Franchetti eventually gave up on the opera, and Ricordi then handed the libretto over to Puccini. Some historians say that the publisher deceived Franchetti by telling him the drama was too violent and rough to be successful; however, Franchetti told his children that he graciously withdrew in favor of Puccini, saying that Puccini "has more time than I have."
Regardless of the exact circumstances, Puccini now owned the libretto. Illica, Giuseppe Giacosa and Puccini set about improving the rough libretto. Sardou himself took an interest in shaping the libretto, even announcing that he liked the finished libretto better than his original play.
Puccini himself demanded a whole list of changes. For example, he disliked the presence of an elaborate aria for Cavaradossi in the torture scene that grew into a full quartet. There was also a "Latin Hymn" for the painter in the last act, an aria in which he sang his farewell to life by reviewing his ideas on art, politics and other academic matters. Puccini cut out both of these, refining Tosca's dramatic timing. It was Puccini's theatrical ideas as well as his music that gave us the Tosca we know today.