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What You Don't Know about Tosca: She's The Girl Next Door (Almost)

Becca Fay
Jennifer Rowley

Puccini’s opera Tosca has all the elements of a grand melodrama, including overwhelming passion, torture, and murder. But the character of Tosca is also very human, says the soprano who sings the title role in several recent and upcoming productions. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more.

Jennifer Rowley sings the role of Tosca on The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcast on WRTI 90.1 on Sunday, July 8th at 1 pm.

The opera is set in Rome in 1800, when Napoleon was charging through Italy.  The character Tosca is a famous singer who is deeply in love with the artist Cavaradossi.  Her jealousy leads to tragic consequences, but don’t judge her too harshly. 

“She was actually orphaned, found in a field by monks, and raised in a monastery,” says soprano Jennifer Rowley, who found humanizing details in the play by Victorien Sardou on which the opera is based.  “She had a lot of music in her life. The organist at the monastery worked with her and she was discovered at a very young age and taken to La Scala.”  

The opera picks up the story just a few years after her debut at that famous Italian opera house.  

“So we know she’s probably 19, 20,” says Rowley.  This young person, who doesn’t really know how to deal with all of this fame and a new boyfriend.”

But as the opera goes on, her boyfriend is arrested and tortured by the secret police and Tosca grows up quickly. 

“The immense amount of tragedy she has to go through in one day’s time is absolutely incredible. It’s really fun for me to have that journey with her and to see her grow and change.”

Discovering the emotions that transcend time and place: “I relate to her as a young singer and I relate to her passion and her love,” says Rowley. “For me, the passion for music and for art and for this art form is so deeply rooted. The music—it gets in you and it makes you feel.

Jennifer Rowley has sung the role of Tosca with Nashville Opera and with The Metropolitan Opera, where she will return in the title role next season. 

Soprano Jennifer Rowley talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about singing the role of Tosca and how she became enchanted with opera.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.