Tosca's première in Rome in January 1900 was nearly disrupted by a terrorist threat to blow up Italy's King Umberto. Victorien Sardou had written the melodrama for the great actress Sarah Bernhardt. Giacomo Puccini's popular opera is a tale of sadism and brutality, torture, attempted rape, murder, an execution and two suicides. `Realism' was in vogue: Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana had been a great success, as had Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. With sharp practice, the publisher Giulio Ricordi obtained `Tosca' for Puccini, who had already composed Manon Lescaut and La Bohème. The story, set in the Napoleonic, era was ideal for Puccini, a chain-smoker who enjoyed women, shooting birds, and high-speed motor cars. A political prisoner seeks sanctuary in the church where prima donna Floria Tosca's lover Cavaradossi, a role associated with Pavarotti, is painting a picture of Mary Magdalen. In Va, Tosca! the police chief Scarpia fantasises about Tosca during a Te Deum celebrating Napoleon's victory. Tosca stabs Scarpia following the famous operatic aria, Vissi d'arte, immortalised by Maria Callas on stage and in the film produced by Franco Zeffirelli. Awaiting death before dawn in the Castel Sant'Angelo, Cavaradossi sings the well-known arias E lucevan le stelle and O dolci mani. Tosca's attempt to save him comes to nothing. Written by Michael Steen, author of the acclaimed The Lives and Times of the Great Composers, `Short Guides to Great Operas' are concise, entertaining and easy to read. They are packed with useful information and informed opinion, helping to make you a truly knowledgeable opera-goer, and so maximising your enjoyment of a great musical experience. Other `Short Guides to Great Operas' that you may enjoy include La bohème, Madama Butterfly and Carmen.