Giacomo Puccini: Tosca 1900

Edited by Roger Parker (2019)

NR 141751

The critical edition of the Operas of Giacomo Puccini, of which this Tosca is a part, breaks new ground in several areas of its critical approach to the text. Much traditional textual criticism for literary works – which has been applied in critical editions of music from the 19th century – cannot apply in the case of Puccini. Most important is that there must be a single master text to be called the “primary source”. In the case of almost all Puccini’s operas, several sources will, in alternation and at times even simultaneously, take on the role of “primary source”. Second, the conventional approach toward standardization of performance information in the scores cannot apply to much of the music of Puccini’s time and milieu. Layered dynamics, inconsistent phrasing, differentiated articulation of reprised passages, and so on, are part of the more sophisticated orchestral practice of the composers of Puccini’s time.

Establishing a hierarchy of sources in Tosca is, as usual, extremely difficult. There is, of course, the composer’s autograph score, which in this case (see Tosca 1900, below) is of unusual importance. But in many cases this autograph represents merely a working stage toward a final text, which will be revealed in a first and subsequent printing of the orchestral score. There are also the two main versions of the printed vocal score, prepared during Puccini’s lifetime for sale to the general public, the first of which is an extremely important stage in the emergence of Tosca 1900. But these vocal score sources are also problematic, the principal reason being that, in the years of Puccini’s activity and up through the middle of the 20th century, Ricordi maintained separate editorial staffs and archival libraries for music rented to professionals and music prepared for the amateur market. Only the former type of material – which was the publisher’s core business – was kept consistently updated and corrected for use in Italian theaters (but not necessarily in the material sent to foreign theaters), and almost all such material was lost during WWII or discarded thereafter. The latter type (the vocal scores and other derivative material), which made its way into large libraries and asserted copyright, is the only one which has been minutely described by bibliographers; but the authority they carry in establishing various versions of a given opera needs to be weighed on a case-by-case basis.

The present version of Tosca takes all the major sources into account and establishes an entirely new text for the opera. The traditional version usually performed before now was a curious amalgam of composer’s markings (mostly derived from the autograph) and then layer upon layer of editorial intervention, much of it necessary given the preliminary natural of the autograph, but gradually moving the score away from the composer’s control. On every page, multiple decisions thus have to be made, comparing the autograph score with the first printed score and with subsequent reprintings, also with the various vocal scores, in the process trying to establish a version of the text that is both consistent (according to the norms of the day) and as close as possible to Puccini’s intentions. This is, above all, not a mechanical process: in most editions of earlier 19th-century operas, the autograph score reading will almost invariably be preferred unless it is obviously mistaken; but in an edition of Puccini this will very frequently not be the case. At the end of this process, no single page will be identical to that of the traditional score.

Puccini very frequently revised his operas, thus making the task of the critical edition even more complicated. Tosca is, in this sense, probably the most stable of Puccini’s mature score, with basically a fixed version of the score (apart from a few changes made to the 1909 French version – changes that were not then applied to subsequent Italian versions). However, in the process of making the critical edition of Tosca it became obvious that it would also be possible to isolate one early version of the opera – that which (broadly speaking) Puccini brought with him to rehearsals for the world premiere in Rome, and then subsequently revised either during rehearsals for the first performance, or after the premiere in preparation for revivals. This version, which can be recuperated from Puccini’s autograph score and the first edition of the printed vocal score, offers some very surprising differences (especially to some very wellknown moments). Such a version serves to demonstrate the multiple changes of mind that Puccini had about his opera.

Although it is completely clear that Puccini himself was responsible for the subsequent changes to these passages (they will thus appear in an Appendix to the final published critical edition of the opera), there are defensible reasons for presenting them to the public as a discrete “version” of Tosca. They clearly constitute a finished version of the text: all but Nn. 1 and 8 above are moments that continued from the autograph score into the first printed vocal score, which appeared about the time of the first performance (although clearly prepared earlier). What is more, they offer a startlingly different version of some of the most iconic moments of this iconic opera. To take just one example, there has been huge critical debate about the reminiscence of “E lucevan le stelle” in the opera’s closing moments (at least from Joseph Kerman’s Opera as Drama in the 1950s), and knowledge of Puccini’s first intentions (with Tosca herself singing during the reprise, and with a much longer statement of the aria in the final orchestral peroration) engages critically with the terms of this debate. What is more, other iconic moments (such as Tosca’s “Quanto? Il prezzo”) are given a new perspective by knowing that original Puccini imagined the phrase with an obvious melodic profile (rather than quasi parlato). In short, this Tosca 1900, while it will never be the “final” version of the opera, encourages listeners and performers to think again about an opera that has become fixed in the memory.