Giacomo Puccini, who died on November 29, 1924, was a giant in Italian opera, unrivaled in orchestration and a sense of theater. Passion, sensuality, tenderness, pathos and despair infused such operas as Manon Lescaut, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot.
Tosca was one of Puccini’s greatest operas, but it seems to have taken on a bit of a curse, like that Scottish play whose title shall not be uttered in the theater. More things have evidently gone awry in Tosca than in any other opera. A few vivid examples:
Exit Stage Left . . . Exit Damnit: In Act II of a performance of Tosca featuring Maria Callas in the title role, Tosca stabs her tormentor Scarpia, and then leaves the stage. After doing the deed, Callas who suffered from myopia but couldn’t wear contact lenses wandered the stage, unable to find her way out. Baritone Tito Gobbi, our Scarpia, while lying dead, tried to discreetly point out the exit, but started laughing so much that both his laughing and his pointing were obvious to the audience. The next morning, newspapers raved about his memorable portrayal of Scarpia’s death.
They Shoot Divas, Don’t They?: In another performance, a firing squad is called upon to execute Tosca’s lover Mario in the final act. The players were instructed to enter and shoot the person they found onstage, and then to exit with the principals. But when the players got onstage, they discovered two people and didn’t know which one to shoot. They aimed at one then the other as both principals said not to shoot them. They finally chose Tosca, but when they shot her, Mario keeled over dead. They stood there, further bewildered; they had been told to exit with the principals but neither of the principals were exiting. Mario remained lifeless while Tosca tried to shoo them away. Finally, when Tosca jumped to her death from the castle parapet, they seized the opportunity to exit with at least one principal, and they jumped after her, adding immeasurably to the tragedy.
Follow the Bouncing Diva: Tosca’s leap to her death from the parapet of the Castel Sant’Angelo is the dramatic conclusion to the opera. Various methods have been employed to keep the jumping soprano safe; usually a mattress does the trick. In a Lyric Opera of Chicago performance, stage hands replaced the usual mattress with a trampoline to provide added safety for a British soprano. They also added some unintended encores as Tosca bounced back into view several times.
One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. ‘Oh, no,’ I said, ‘Disneyland burned down.’ He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late. — Jack Handey