Performance | Famous Performances: Tosca | Turn of the Century | Opera

Stories of chaotic and bungled performances of Tosca abound, but there are two in particular that have become legendary. The first concerns a production in New York in 1960. The prima donna singing the title role had, through her various demands and irascibility, made herself unpopular with everyone – so much so, in fact, that the backstage crew decided to have their revenge on her. At the end of the opera, Tosca is instructed to leap from the battlements of the Castel Sant’Angelo, after her lover, Cavaradossi, has been executed. She would normally land safely on a specially constructed pad. In this instance, the crew apparently substituted the pad with a particularly springy trampoline. The tragedy of Tosca’s dramatic leap was cut short as she reappeared above the parapets several times.

The other story reports that a set of under-rehearsed extras in a 1961 production in San Francisco was rushed in to be the firing squad. Instructed to come on stage, conduct the execution and exit with the principals, the squad was confused to discover both Tosca and Cavaradossi on stage and no clear indication of who should be shot. They finally settled on Tosca – she was, after all, the tragic eponymous heroine – only to see her lover collapse beside her. Further disarray followed when Tosca leapt off the parapet and the men were left on stage. True to their instructions, they exited with the principals, following one another as they too jumped from the castle.

Performance | Opera in the Terezín Concentration Camp | Modern Era | Opera


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