Tosca’s Kiss: The beauty of live theater

By Max Kellogg, Florida Grand Opera

One of the beauties of live theater is its unpredictability, and when you are dealing with one of the most-performed operas in the world, unexpected things are bound to happen.  Some things are minor incidents that are easily covered up, sometimes without anyone in the audience noticing.  Others tend to make headlines in the papers.  While Florida Grand Opera is preparing to produce Giacomo Puccini’s “shabby little shocker” Tosca this coming March and April, we wanted to take the opportunity to look at famous mishaps and tales of this opera, which is one of the most often performed pieces of the standard repertoire.

Photo by Rosarii Lynch for Seattle Opera

10. The Crispy Diva: In 1965, famed Tosca Maria Callas was in the midst of a tense act II torture scene, and while wrestling off Tito Gobbi’s Scarpia, her wig made unfortunate contact with a candelabra, igniting the diva on stage.  Lucky for her, Gobbi improvised a fight move that extinguished the flame, and allowed them to continue singing without a note missed.  After she stabbed him at the end of the act, she muttered under her breath “Grazie, Tito.”

9. The Angry Diva: With Maria Jeritza playing the fiery Tosca and Antonio Scotti as the evil Baron, Jeritza in the heat of the moment literally stabbed Scotti with the knife prop.  The audience seemed to be impressed with Scotti’s acting, though his exclamations of pain were real.

8.  The Malfunctioning Prop: In a performance in Italy in the 1990s as the opera made its final twist in the last scene, the gun that was supposed to fire at Cavaradossi did not go off properly, leaving Cavaradossi to fall to the floor with no gunshot. An Italian critic’s response to the mishap? ‘Cavaradossi dies of a heart attack‘.

7.  The Boxing Diva: While Eva Marton was fighting Juan Pons in the torture scene in the Met’s production in 1986, she suffered a dislocated jaw after Pons elbowed her in the mouth. However, being the tough diva she was, she was able to finish the act.

6. The Feathered Diva: In her final performance as Tosca at the Met in 1999, Eva Marton landed on an exploded feather mattress after her suicidal jump.  She took her curtain call covered in feathers from head to toe.

5. The Bouncing Diva: One of the most treasured tales in Tosca going wrong was when the mattress for the suicide jump was replaced with a trampoline.  After a particular Tosca declares “Oh Scarpia!  Avanti a Dio!” and jumped off the ledge for her suicide scene she was seen again and again by the audience as she bounced.

4.  The Stumbling Painter: During a live broadcast of Tosca, Placido Domingo fell down the ladder on the painter’s scaffold in Act 1, landing abruptly against the wall of the Attavanti chapel.  Luckily for Domingo, he only suffered a broken nose from the fall.

3.  The Miscalculating Diva: At Minnesota Opera in 1993 soprano Elisabeth Knighton Printy had jumped off the stage, only to realize in midair that she had not jumped off at the right spot.  Falling 30 feet without a mattress, she incapacitated herself for the rest of the run with two broken legs and many bruises.

2.  The Injured Divo: Tenor Fabio Armiliato as Cavaradossi at the Macerata Festival in 1995 was actually shot! One of the guns used in the execution had been loaded incorrectly, with real bullets and the tenor was hit in the leg with its fragments.  Though he had tried to continue the rest of the performances with crutches, he inevitably had to pull out of the run.

1.  The Suicide Squad:  This is a famous opera tale of using inexperienced college students to play the firing squad of Act 3. The students were given last minute instructions to “slow-march in, wait until the officer lowers his sword, shoot, then exit with the principals.”  After shooting Cavaradossi, the students watched in disbelief as the last principal, Tosca, took her position on top of the battlements. She jumped, and there was only one thing to do – as the curtain slowly descended the whole firing squad threw themselves after her, following the instructions they were given to “exit with the principals.”


Photo by Rosarii Lynch for Seattle Opera