Tosca’s the world’s second-favourite opera (after Les Miserables), but a modern person looking at it might say “I loved the tunes, but why are they all so excited?” This is because they do not understand the period Tosca is set in, because (like all operas) it is a very accurate historical piece.
TL;DR: a performance artist fights against the Spanish inquisition to save his hat-obsessed girlfriend.
The main character of the opera is Cavaradossi. We can tell this because he’s a tenor. At the time, Italy was being oppressed by the cruel British Empire, and people like Cavaradossi and Garibaldi the Biscuiteer used performance art to fight them, until Verdi scared Lawrence of Arrabiata away by playing something with a tune. To this day, Italians immortalise the incident in a pasta dish.
The first dish of Pasta Arrabiata
Cavaradossi is dating Tosca, who works in an opera house. In Italian ‘opera’ means ‘work’, and Italian work houses were very similar to the kind of thing you’d see in Oliver Twist or Benefit Street. At the time, a lot of people were becoming less religious as they discovered things like music and opium. However, Tosca is very religious. This is because she is in Rome, where the main export was very religious people in very big hats. Tosca likes big hats a lot.
A man in a big hat. Possibly the Pope?
Scarpia doesn’t like anyone. He’s a member of the Spanish Inquisition on holiday in Rome. At the time, the Catholic church was big on Polygamy, and he wants Tosca to date him as well as Cavaradossi. The Catholic church was also keen on bells, as they helped ensure Punctuality. Puccini uses a lot of bells in Tosca to make sure the singers keep in time.
We use a conductor AND bells.