Puccini Suor Angelica
From forlorn to feisty, fanciful to frightful, Puccini’s superbly observed female roles cover every character type. Two extremes meet in his Suor Angelica when the eponymous nun, sent to a convent as punishment for having an affair, is bluntly informed by her stone-hearted aunt that her illegitimate son is dead. Angelica’s subsequent heartbroken aria, ‘Senza Mamma’ matches Tosca’s ‘Vissi d’arte’ for pathos.
Recommended recording: Puccini Suor Angelica by Kristine Opolais et al (Orfeo C848121A)
Premiered in the same year as Tosca, Leoncavallo’s Zazà also has a singer as its central character, though in this instance her preferred stage is in the music-hall. Zazà’s misfortune is to fall in love with a wealthy Parisian who is already married. When she visits his home in disguise, she is greeted by the sight of his happy daughter and contrasting memories of her own broken childhood home flood back. She accepts that, for her, contentment is not to be.
Recommended recording: Leoncavallo’s Zazà by Ermonela Jaho et al (Opera Rara ORC55)
Giordano’s Andrea Chénier
For Giordano’s 1896 opera Andrea Chénier, turn the clock back seven years from the early-Napoleonic era of Tosca to the Terror of the French Revolution. Though the poet Chénier, based on a real-life figure, is the title role, the real heroine is the countess’s daughter Maddalena who is blackmailed into saving his life from the guillotine by offering herself to Robespierre’s vile agent, Gérard.
Recommended recording: Giordano’s Andrea Chénier by Plácido Domingo et al (Sony 88697576152)
Mascagni’s Il piccolo Marat
Premiered in 1919, Mascagni’s Il piccolo Marat also has the French Revolution as its setting. The title refers to the Prince of Fleury, who disguises himself as a revolutionary to try and rescue his mother from prison and execution. Just as Puccini does with Tosca’s Scarpia motif, Mascagni creates an atmosphere of foreboding with a score that is deeply dark and menacing.
Recommended recording: Mascagni’s Il piccolo Marat by Giuseppe Gismondo et al (Warner Fonit 50466-3246-2-7)
Wolf-Ferrari’s The Jewels of the Madonna
Finally, Tosca’s distinctive combination of secular and sacred worlds can also be heard in Wolf-Ferrari’s 1911 The Jewels of the Madonna, set in Naples on a religious feast day. It also features a notably strong-willed central female role, though unlike Tosca, the beautiful Maliella’s purpose is anything but honourable – and the outcome of her machinations is not pretty.
Recommended recording: Wolf-Ferrari’s The Jewels of the Madonna by Natalia Ushakova et al (Naxos 8.660386-87).