May 05, 2020

TOSCA: A Lyric photo history

Puccini's Tosca is one of the most dramatic and passionate works in the repertoire — no wonder it's been a Lyric favorite since the company's very first season in 1954. We couldn't be more excited to welcome a new-to-Chicago production as a part of the 2021/22 Season.

To celebrate, we're offering a selective look back at the history of this enormously popular opera at Lyric. Just a few of the stars who have appeared in this opera at Lyric are Renata Tebaldi, Tito Gobbi, Richard Tucker, Carlo Bergonzi, Janis Martin, Luciano Pavarotti, Grace Bumbry, Renata Scotto, Sherrill Milnes, James Morris, Samuel Ramey, and Deborah Voigt.


Renata Tebaldi (R) takes a bow with Tito Gobbi (L) during Lyric's 1960 run of Tosca.


Puccini's Tosca was presented in the 1954, 1956, and 1957 seasons, all using the same sets from Lyric's warehouse. The production returned in 1960, directed by Carlo Maestrini and featuring three greats in the main roles: Renata Tebaldi as Tosca, Giuseppe di Stefano as Cavaradossi, and Tito Gobbi as Scarpia. For many years, Gobbi truly was Lyric's pre-eminent Scarpia, appearing in the first six productions the company would mount in the 1950s and 60s, and then returning for two more in the 1970s. Tebaldi also appeared as Tosca in the company's 1956 production.


Régine Crespin and Giuseppe Zampieri (L); Crespin and Tito Gobbi (R).

Tito Gobbi returned to Lyric as Scarpia in 1962 alongside Giuseppe Zampieri as Cavaradossi and Régine Crespin making her North American debut as Tosca. Carlo Felice Cillario conducted and Riccardo Moresco directed.


Tito Gobbi in the famous Te Deum scene (top); Régine Crespin and Richard Tucker (bottom L), Tucker and Gobbi (bottom R).

Tito Gobbi returned in 1964, once again starring as Scarpia, marking his sixth appearance in the role at Lyric. Bruno Bartoletti conducted in his first year as Lyric's co-artistic director (with Pino Donati). The great tenor Richard Tucker starred as Cavaradossi with Régine Crespin returning as Tosca. 


Clockwise from top L: Carlo Bergonzi as Cavaradossi; Janis Martin and Tito Gobbi face off as Tosca and Scarpia; Martin is greeted by Maria Caniglia backstage.

Though Lyric also presented Tosca in 1968, 1971 is a significant year as it was the first season that Lyric would present a new production directed by Tito Gobbi and designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi. This production — sponsored by James C. Hemphill — became a company staple, and was presented a total of six times in the 1970s and 80s. This is the first time that Gobbi both directed and starred as Scarpia at Lyric. Also in this production were two opera greats who passed away in 2014: Carlo Bergonzi as Cavaradossi and Janis Martin as the titular diva. In the candid backstage photo above, Martin is greeted by Maria Caniglia, wife of then co-artistic director Pino Donato and one of the greatest Toscas in the history of the role!


Clockwise from top L: Luciano Pavarotti at his most passionate; Cavaradossi (Pavarotti) and Scarpia (Cornell MacNeil) square off; Tosca (Carol Neblett) with Cavaradossi; MacNeil and Neblett as Scarpia and Tosca.

Tito Gobbi returned as director in 1973 and 1976. The 1976 production featured famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti's only performance of Cavaradossi on Lyric's stage. Carol Neblett and Cornell MacNeil portrayed Tosca and Scarpia.


Top: Tito Gobbi (center) directs Grace Bumbry and Veriano Luchetti; Bottom: Siegmund Nimsgern and Eva Marton (L); Grace Bumbry prepares for Tosca's leap (R).

The enduring Hemphill production with Tito Gobbi again directing saw two casts take on this opera, with the above photo illustrating his directing technique. This would be the last time he would direct his signature opera at Lyric. Veriano Luchetti and superstar tenor Plácido Domingo shared the role of Cavaradossi. Grace Bumbry and Eva Marton portrayed the diva; and Ingvar Wixell and Siegmund Nimsgern each played Scarpia.


Clockwise from top L: Giuliano Ciannella and Renata Scotto; Sherrill Milnes and Scotto; Ciannella; Milnes in the Te Deum scene.

The incomparable Renata Scotto portrayed Tosca in this season's revival of the Hemphill production, this time brought to life with revival director Herbert Kellner following original director Tito Gobbi's death in 1984. Joining Scotto for these productions were Sherrill Milnes and Siegmund Nimsgern as Scarpia with Giuliano Ciannella portraying Cavaradossi.


James Morris as Scarpia (L); Elizabeth Byrne and Kristján Jóhannsson (top R); Maria Guleghina and Tom Fox (bottom R).


After more than two decades of presenting the Hemphill production (including yet another revival during the 1989/90 season), Lyric presented a new Tosca directed by Frank Galati with sets by Tony Walton and costumes by Willa Kim. Bruno Bartoletti conducted a dual cast that included Kristján Jóhannsson and Richard Leech (Cavaradossi), Elizabeth Byrne and Maria Guleghina (Tosca), and James Morris and Tom Fox (Scarpia). Morris was also starring as Wotan in Wagner's Die Walküre that season (part of Lyric's first complete Ring cycle, which was presented as one opera each season with the complete cycle in 1996). This production would also be revived in the 2000/01 season.


Clockwise from top L: Carlo Ventre and Doina Dimitriu; Te Deum scene; Samuel Ramey and Dimitriu; Dimitriu and Neil Shicoff.

For the company's 50th season, Tosca was one of the operas programmed that hearkened back to the company's very first season. However, instead of presenting a new production, Lyric reached back in operatic history to an important gem: the Franco Zeffirelli production revived by director John Cox (sets by Renzo Mongiardino and costumes by Marcel Escoffier) first seen in 1964 at London's Royal Opera House starring Maria Callas, who came out of semi-retirement to play Tosca. The performances were also dedicated to the memory of Tito Gobbi. Bruno Bartoletti conducted a cast that included Neil Shicoff and Carlo Ventre as Cavaradossi, Doina Dimitriu (Lyric debut) and Aprile Millo as Tosca, and Samuel Ramey as Scarpia. 


Top: Deborah Voigt (far L) and Vladimir Galouzine (far R) in the execution scene; Bottom (L-R): James Morris; Voigt and Galouzine; Marco Berti; Lucio Gallo and Violeta Urmana.


Lyric reprised the Zeffirelli production, this time with direction from Garnett Bruce. Deborah Voigt (Tosca), Vladimir Galouzine (Cavaradossi), and James Morris (Scarpia) starred in September & October. Morris celebrated the 30th anniversary of his Lyric debut with these performances. In January, Violeta Urmana, Marco Berti, and Lucio Gallo took over the respective roles. In addition to dual casts, the conducting duties were split as well with music director Sir Andrew Davis leading the first cast (Voigt/Galouzine/Morris) and Stephen Lord the second (Urmana/Berti/Gallo).


Brian Jagde and Tatiana Serjan (L), Evgeny Nikitin, Lyric Opera Chorus, and the Chicago Children's Choir (top), Mark Delavan and Hui He (bottom) in Lyric's 2014/15 production of Tosca.


In another double cast production, directed by John Caird (who had made his Lyric directorial debut just the season before with Parsifal), the dynamic trio were performed by Brian Jagde and Jorge De Leon (Cavaradossi) in both of their Lyric debuts, Tatiana Serjan and Hui He (Tosca), and Evgeny Nikitin and Mark Delavan (Scarpia).

March 12 – April 10, 2022



A diva who has all of Rome at her feet. A woman who takes charge of her life and fights for what she wants. A heroine who is brave and loving, extravagantly emotional, yet utterly irresistible. Floria Tosca is all these things. She’s loved by Mario Cavaradossi, the revolutionary, and lusted after by Baron Scarpia, Rome’s vicious police chief. Puccini’s lushly grand-scale music illuminates these characters, and the entire opera bursts with a theatricality that makes Tosca a favorite of audiences everywhere.

Header photo: Act I of Lyric's 2009/10 production of Puccini's Tosca. Credit: Dan Rest

All other photos: Nancy Sorensen, David H. Fishman, Tony Romano, Dan Rest, Robert Kusel, Todd Rosenberg