Where have I heard the music of Tosca?

Puccini’s Tosca is truly one of history’s finest operas. A tale of love, murder and tragedy, Tosca resonates with everyone who sees it. It’s no surprise, then, that the music of Tosca appears throughout popular media, often used to create parallels between the plot of the opera and whatever film, TV show or video game it appears in. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous examples of where you might’ve heard Tosca’s music before

The second of Daniel Craig’s Bond era features Tosca in an opera-based set piece set at an opera house in Bregenz, Austria. Well known for its Bregenzer Festspiele, a festival in the city that uses a floating stage on the shores of Lake Constance, Quantum of Solace used the 2008 festival to film an early climax in the blockbuster.

When a meeting of the Quantum organisation happens at this performance of Tosca, Bond follows baddie Dominic Greene to the performance, wherein he’s able to identify further members of Quantum, before a gun fight ensues in classic Bond fashion to the astonishing Te Deum laudamus from Act 1.

The use of Tosca was evidently no accident (though we’re sure a production of the opera in such a stellar venue was convenient), as Bond’s loss of Vesper Lynd at the climax of Casino Royale and his quest for vengeance mirrors Tosca’s murderous vengeance against the Baron Scarpia. 

Milk, the biopic of San Francisco’s first openly gay supervisor Harvey Milk, features Tosca as a plot device in several key moments of the movie. Despite telling different tales, a similar narrative arc is found – both protagonists have a moment of victory: Tosca killing her tormentor Scarpia and Milk winning the Proposition 6 vote. 

In this sense, there are several parallels between the movie and plot of Tosca. The scene at the opera we see is the finale of Tosca, wherein our heroine falls to her death. Whilst the circumstances are quite different (Tosca commits suicide whilst Harvey Milk is murdered by gunshot), opera’s most famous death scene might foreshadow Milk’s own. 

Just minutes after Milk wins the vote against Proposition 6 (a proposed law that would stop any LGBT teachers from working in California public schools), he heads to the opera, to see a little opera called Tosca. The scene featured is that of the death of Tosca, a clear foreshadowing of events to come

 At the climax of the film, Milk is shot in his office by fellow politician Dan White. As he lays dying, he looks out of the window, to see banners of Tosca adorning the San Francisco Opera House. A touching ending to the story of a groundbreaking politician. 

Similarly to the above examples, Tosca is used in Season 1 of hit TV show Peaky Blinders to parallel and foreshadow multiple events. A visit to the opera by Chief Inspector Campbell and his mole Grace highlights two scenes – Scarpia’s attempts to seduce Tosca, as well as the former’s death by the latter’s hand – stabbing him to death. 

This foreshadowing comes to fruition in Season 2, wherein Campbell gets his Scarpia themed comeuppance – but not from Grace, as is suggested by the opera visit, but by Helen McCrory’s Polly, who takes vengeance on Inspector Campbell. Not by knife, but by gunshot – a fittingly updated murder for this parallel.

Lola, known in the original French as Lola vers la mer (‘Lola and the Sea’), follows the titular Lola, a transgender teenager who’s recently lost her mother, who’s in the throes of mourning. And luckily for us, the film features one of the most stunning arias from Tosca, ‘Vissi d’arte’.

‘Vissi d’arte’ (‘I lived for art’) is a heartbreaking moment in Act 2 of Tosca. Scarpia, with Cavaradossi as his ‘hostage’, poses an ultimatum to Tosca – that she give herself to him, Cavaradossi will not need to be executed. Tosca prays to God, asking why he has abandoned her to this awful fate. 

Lola, who finds herself on a road trip to spread her mother’s ashes with her estranged and intolerant father, listens to the aria when it comes on her mum’s iPod on the road. The aria playing incites a spark of companionship between the pair, as they evidently both have memories associated with Maria Callas’ recording. Symbolically, the aria is the two at a crossroads, as they have a choice to make on how to move forward, and both choices will bring pain – much like Tosca’s own choice. 

In 2018’s A Star is Born, brief moments of opera filter into the rock-fuelled romance of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s tumultuous relationship as Ally and Jack. Ally, a singer who has been continuously rejected by industry professionals for her nose, is understandably self-conscious about her appearance. 

It’s appropriate, therefore, that before accepting Jack’s invite to go to his show (during which the course of her life is drastically altered), ‘Recondita armonia’ is playing at her house while she discusses going to the concert with her father. An appropriate aria, as this Act 1 aria from Tosca features Cavaradossi lovingly recounting Tosca’s beautiful features. Foreshadowing, perhaps, Ally meeting someone who will see her as beautiful that very night. 

The running video game series Hitman follows a bald assassin in his country-hopping odyssey. In the 2006 entry Blood Money, the mission ‘Curtains Down’ happens at the Paris Opera House, wherein the protagonist aims to assassinate an American ambassador as well as a renowned tenor. 

But as it happens, when Agent 47 arrives at the Opera House, rehearsals are in full swing for a production of Tosca. Despite being a villain in every sense outside of character, tenor Alvaro D’Alvade is playing Tosca’s love interest, the noble Cavaradossi, and rehearsing his execution scene from Act 3 of the opera, wherein the character is shot by firing squad. 

Ironic then, perhaps, that the scene usually ends with both D’Alvade and Cavaradossi dead, thanks to Agent 47’s interference.