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Victorien Sardou's play La Tosca was written for Sarah Bernhardt, who made it a theater hit. Puccini pursued the idea of an opera version of it off and on for almost ten years before he finally got a complete libretto from Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica (who had also done the libretto for La bohème and would do Madama Butterfly) early in 1898. The January 1900 premiere was arranged for Rome, probably because that is where the opera is set. Toscanini conducted the opera's second production two months later at La Scala, and the first foreign performances were given that summer in Buenos Aires and London, setting this intensely dramatic opera on the road to a popularity it has never left.
In Act II, Baron Scarpia, the Roman Chief of Police, interrogates Tosca while her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, is being tortured. Scarpia brutally and cynically demands her favors as the price of Cavaradossi's life. Disgusted and dismayed, Tosca responds with "Vissi d'arte," an eloquent, impassioned personal statement that crests in a tremendous outpouring of grief.
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.