June 18th, 2011 Headsman
It’s at dawn on this date in 1800 that the republican Mario Cavaradossi is shot at Castel Sant’Angelo in the climax of the Puccini opera Tosca.
This opera was adapted from the play La Tosca, by Victorien Sardou. That author does this site the considerable favor of exactly dating the action; a character at the end of Act 1, Scene 1 announces, “this evening, 17 June, a celebration at the Palazzo Farnese in honor of this victory.” The remaining story unfolds over that night and into the next morning.
“This victory” worth the proposed palazzo party is the Austrian defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Marengo during Bonaparte’s 1800 invasion of Italy.
But there’s a minor problem. Said seesaw battle went not to Austria but (decisively) to Napoleon, after a late French rally.
The action of Tosca takes place in a Rome which has received an initial, incorrect notice of Austrian victory. This is of particular import in the Eternal City because it’s under the temporary receivership of the Hapsburg Queen Maria Carolina, a virulent foe of the French Republic as befits a sister of Marie Antoinette.
(France-supported Italian revolutionaries had already deposed Maria Carolina once; the Corsican’s reappearance on her peninsula gave her good cause to fear that it would happen again.*)
At any rate, “Queen Caroline” and her husband Ferdinand were not above spilling blood to hold down the republican elements in Rome. Harold Acton pegged their harvest at “8,000 political prisoners … 105 were condemned to death, six of whom were reprieved.”
Our date’s fictional principal would reckon among those.
We meet him as a painter with subversively liberal inclinations, in love with the titular heroine as she with him — but opposed by police chief Scarpia: his profession is to pursue revolutionaries; his passion, to pursue Tosca.
Scarpia captures, and tortures, Cavaradossi for aiding an escaped official of the recently destroyed Roman Republic, and forces Tosca to yield herself to him in exchange for her lover’s life.** This is Tosca’s aria lamenting her position:
One thing: because Scarpia doesn’t want to be implicated in the release of a dangerous radical, he insists on a mock-execution in which the prisoner will appear to be shot and feign death, the better to spirit Cavaradossi away and on to happily-ever-after.†
And because Scarpia is a villain, he arranges for his rival’s “mock” execution to be not so mock after all … to the suicidal horror of Tosca.
** Okay, to agree to yield herself to him. Tosca stabs Scarpia to death when he rises to collect her promised virtue.
† “In the manner of Count Palmieri,” Scarpia instructs his subaltern. If this is a reference to a real case, we are not aware of it; there was a royalist Marquis Palmieri executed in Naples in 1807 by Napoleon’s brother, Joseph.
Also on this date
- 1953: 32 merciful Soviet soldiers
- 2010: Ronnie Lee Gardner, by musketry
- 1947: Shigematsu Sakaibara, "I obey with pleasure"
- 1975: Prince Faisal ibn Musa'id, royal assassin
Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Fictional,Habsburg Realm,History,Italy,Mock Executions,Papal States,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Torture,Treason
Tags: 1800, 1800s, battle of marengo, castel sant'angelo, giacomo puccini, jacques-louis david, june 18, la tosca, love triangle, maria carolina, marie caroline, mario cavaradossi, napoleon bonaparte, napoleonic wars, opera, rome, theater, tosca