Woland: I’ll tell you, anyway you look at it, this is the most delicious plot I’ve ever seen. Let me make a few points in support of that: one – Baron Scarpia dies an old man, in his quarters, by the hand of a beautiful young woman whom he, arguably, loves; Mario Cavaradossi dies a young man, in a prison tower, gunned down by a firing squad. Scarpia scores.
Two – Baron Scarpia has complete control over the lives and deaths of all, except his own (and, if you don’t mind me saying, it’s rather common with mankind to have little control of their own demise). No other character has such serene, precise command of the lives of people. Mario in particular seems a poor dimwit in comparison, while Floria’s strength seems at least mis-channeled. Scarpia scores again. Three: in terms of sentiments, Floria’s album is quite confuse when it comes to Mario, but it is pure and simple when it comes to Scarpia. The subtle difference is that it takes a common lover to kill yourself for, it happens a few times a day. But it takes a great man to feel obliged to forgive him and pay him respects after you’ve stabbed him to death in hatred and sheer rage. Scarpia scores a third time. Four: there’s great power in a man’s desires and intentions, they drive him, they make the world turn. The Baron seems to be the only one who realizes that, all the others are guided, or rather misguided, by small, petty whims and a marginal struggle to survive. It’s like one of those unbalanced games of chess when, from one end to another, the Grand Master forces each move of his opponent against the imminent chess mate.
Deroude: There’s a fine ruse in your criticism, professor. You oppose the Baron to the wrong character, practically to the sexual opponent – which is a rather superficial way to look at the true tragic plot. A tragedy is essentially a conflict of equally strong entities, both morally and dramatically – which is in fact why in many tragedies, the evil opponent is not a person, but destiny itself. I will not defend good or evil in Tosca. That is beside the point. The true glorious persona is Floria, a worthy opponent for the Mastermind. She always faces choices, unlike the unfortunate Mario. You may certainly argue that Scarpia has a cunning way of leading her choices, as Iago did Othello. But ultimately, she makes a choice every moment, against the twisting will of the tyrant, but not only that. There are, I think, several strokes of luck that help Scarpia substantially – such as the very sloppy covert visit by the Marquise Attavanti, in which she managed to be observed at length by an un-conspiring witness and to drop a fan with her personal markings.
Other than that, my main argument is in fact Socrates’ plea, that one is more miserable doing the wrong than suffering it. I am certainly aware that the act of being miserable is terribly subjective when we’re talking about my perspective as opposed to yours. Hence, if Scarpia was of your kind, his satisfaction would have been complete and his work flawless. But he is a still a man, bitterly defeated and robbed of his trophy. It is already beyond his reach and satisfaction that his plans linger and eventually lead to the tragic end, some time after his death.
Now, to counter your arguments, think of this: both Scarpia and Cavaradossi die in the presence of Floria Tosca. It is she who puts the last mark, the last memory onto their lives. Think of the choice. On one hand, you have a picture of a torn, all but crushed woman, whom you have deprived of everything and who hates you sincerely. Your last image of her is when she watches you die with spite and fulfilled revenge in her eyes. On the other hand, you have a beautiful, hopeful, victorious woman, with blood on her hands after she killed your rival for you, giving you the promise of the beautiful sea that will carry the two of you away to a life of bliss. Not a hard choice for a simple man like myself.
Let me also point out that the web of mischievous control that Scarpia has over the other characters is rather short lived – in all conceivable scenarios, he loses. Suppose Floria doesn’t kill him, that she submits to his demands. Mario dies and she has no further link to the Baron. She leaves him. Has he done everything for a single moment of half satisfaction? That would be rich, wouldn’t it? Suppose, at the single most unbelievable case possible, that Floria actually appreciates the brilliant mind of the tyrant and decides to stay with him, to be his bride. They would have to run from the victorious Napoleon, take to the beautiful sea that will carry the two… now wait a second, if that’s not ironic… OK, suppose his only purpose in life, as a misanthropist, is to hurt people, make them suffer, take something precious from them and then throw them away. Suppose the scheme itself is the aim – not the result of the scheme. In that case, he got only about a third of it right – he expected to: one – dispose of Angelotti and Cavaradossi; two – obtain the charms of Floria Tosca for a night and, naturally, three – survive the whole process. You do the math.