This emotional chamber opera tells of the passionate affair between a handsome soldier and an old spinster in 19th century war-torn Italy.
Show Essentials
+ Ensemble

Full Synopsis

Lights rise on Clara astride Giorgio as they make passionate love. She falls into Giorgio's arms and looks into his eyes. The two are entirely consumed by their love for each other ("Happiness - Part I"). The mood darkens when Giorgio, who is a soldier, informs Clara that he has received his orders from headquarters; he is leaving Milan for a remote military outpost in five days. He tells her that even though he will be far away, they'll still have each other. They agree they never knew what love was until they met; Clara pleads with him not to go ("Happiness - Part II").

We go to an Officers' Mess Hall at the outpost. Colonel Ricci, Lieutenant Torasso, Major Rizzolli, Lieutenant Barri, and Doctor Tambourri sit around a table eating dinner. The cook, Sergeant Torasso Lombardi, is overseeing the proceedings. The men are suddenly interrupted by a woman's scream, which they momentarily acknowledge before resuming their conversation. Giorgio enters and everyone rises to greet and welcome him. The turns to Giorgio as the men praise him for all his military triumphs.

The scene then splits between Clara who reads a letter from Giorgio and the men at dinner. In the letter, Giorgio tells Clara that he cried the entire train ride when he left her ("First Letter"). At the table, the men hear music coming from upstairs. The Doctor tells Giorgio that the Colonel's cousin, Signora Fosca, is playing the music. She is in such poor health that it is a continual worry; she stays in her room most of the time. Her only real passion is reading, but she's read through all the books the Colonel can find. Giorgio also loves to read, and he is happy to lend Fosca some of the books he has brought. Private Augenti enters and delivers a letter to Giorgio from Clara. She, too, has been crying because she misses him ("Second Letter").

The scene resumes as another scream is heard from upstairs. The Colonel assures Giorgio that it is only Fosca. The Doctor rather routinely rises from his chair and goes up the stairs, even though he makes it very clear that there is absolutely nothing to be done. The Colonel reassures Giorgio that he will get used to the life amongst them.

Next, Giorgio oversees a formation of soldiers performing their marching exercises. He writes to Clara and tells her how much he hates the sterile little town, the pompous little men, and the military madness ("Third Letter"). He still thinks only of Clara, and begs her not to forget him. The Doctor enters and observes that the soldiers appear to be responding well to Giorgio's command. He wants to be certain that things are going well for Giorgio and that Fosca's occasional outbursts have not unsettled him too greatly. Giorgio questions the Doctor, wanting to know exactly what is wrong with Fosca. She has a collection of many ills, a kind of medical phenomenon. Oddly enough, she isn't in danger of succumbing to this disease since her body is so weak it doesn't have the strength to produce a mortal disease. Giorgio wonders if she's the Colonel's lover, but the Doctor tells him that her physical state prevents her from being anyone's lover.

We segue back to the hall. It is morning. Rizzolli and Barri are finishing their breakfast as Giorgio joins them. The cook clears Fosca's place; once again she has not shown up for a meal. Hearing the bugle call, the others leave Giorgio alone to eat his breakfast. Giorgio takes out a letter from Clara. Naturally she misses him. Every time she walks through the park, she sees the bench where they first met. She imagines them together in the little room where they shared so many happy times, and where they will be happy again ("Fourth Letter").

Fosca suddenly enters the room with some books and approaches her empty place setting. We discover that she is an ugly, sickly woman. Giorgio is momentarily stunned. She greets him nervously and thanks him for his books. Reading is the only comfort she has. There she can live in her dreams, as opposed to the horrible realities of her life ("Fosca's Entrance - Part I"). She invites Giorgio to join her on a day when she is feeling better so she can show him the gardens and the nearby ruined castle (Fosca's Entrance - Part II"). He accepts the invitation.

She gets up suddenly and leaves the room. We hear the distant sound of funeral drums. Fosca returns, carrying a small bunch of flowers, which she offers to Giorgio. She is surprised he hasn't noticed their greenhouse. As they look out at it, they hear see a hearse drawing up to the greenhouse, looking for flowers to adorn the casket. Suddenly, Fosca begins to tremble, lets out a terrible cry, and collapses to the floor. Giorgio cries out for the Doctor who enters with attendants who carry her off. Giorgio just stands there revealing the contents of his letter to Clara describing the wretched scene he has just witnessed ("Scene 3 - Part I").

The Colonel, the Doctor, and Fosca enter and stroll through the garden down to Giorgio. The Colonel and Doctor talk alone while Fosca and Giorgio stroll a bit on their own. Once again, Fosca bemoans her sorry situation. Giorgio tells her that there must be hope for her getting better; Fosca assures him there is not. Giorgio tells her to concentrate on everything around her that suggests beauty, life, and a special kind of love; true love that exists between two people ("Scene III - Part 2"). Fosca accuses him of cruelty; she confesses to Giorgio that she has watched him from her window since the first day he arrived. She knows he is different from the rest. She asks him to be her friend ("Scene 3 - Part III"). He tells her that she will, of course, have his friendship. The Colonel and Doctor take Fosca back since she is burning up with fever.

Clara and Giorgio correspond once again. Giorgio has told Clara that he is worried he has opened a door with Fosca that would have been better left closed. She assures him that there was nothing he could do but be her friend. After all, her cousin is his direct superior. He needs to think about his career. However, he needs to keep his distance and make certain that she doesn't misunderstand his intentions.

Three days go by and Giorgio does not contact Fosca; rather, he avoids her. Fosca slips a letter under his napkin stating how upset she is that he hasn't visited with her. Though he may disappear, she will not. Giorgio comes to dinner and Fosca is there at the table. She insists Giorgio read the letter. He lashes out at her; it is obvious that she is obsessed with him. He asks the Colonel if he may take a leave of at least five days. It appears that he is needed in Milan on an important matter. Although annoyed, the Colonel grants Giorgio his request. The other soldiers sing lines from Clara and Giorgio's letters ("Transition Scene 4-5").

The next morning Fosca stops Giorgio on his way to the train. She begs him to think of her while he is gone. He politely dismisses her. She throws herself at his feet, asking if he can at least love her the way he would love a dog. He pulls her up and calms her down by promising to write her while he is gone. Giorgio goes to see Clara and writes Fosca as he promised. His letter contains information that Fosca would rather not know; he tells her that he is in love with someone else. He asks that when he returns to camp they begin anew, acting like they have never met ("Fifth Letter").

Upon his return, Giorgio visits Fosca, who is sicker than ever. She asks about his love for Clara. He tells her that Clara is a married woman whom he adores. Learning all the details of the relationship, Fosca asks that Giorgio never come to visit her again.

Three weeks pass and Giorgio doesn't see Fosca. He writes Clara that things have greatly improved, though in reality the little town and all the military maneuvers are driving him a bit crazy ("Three Weeks"). The Doctor calls for Giorgio to tell him that Fosca has taken a turn for the worse and is mortally ill. She is letting herself die for Giorgio. The Doctor says that the only thing that can save her life is for her to see Giorgio.

Giorgio goes to visit with Fosca who lies sick in bed. She asks him to write her a letter, which she dictates to him. In the letter, at her insistence, he tells her he loves her ("Scene 7 - Part II"). He gives the letter to her and obliges her with a requested kiss. She pulls him towards her passionately. Giorgio pulls himself away and runs from the room. After a moment of calm, Fosca screams.

The next morning, the soldiers comment on how Fosca's screams are driving them all crazy ("Scene 8"). The Doctor thanks Giorgio for going to see Fosca, though Giorgio questions the validity of his request. Later on, the Colonel thanks Giorgio for visiting Fosca. He tells Giorgio that his parents died when he was very young, and Fosca's mother and father welcomed him into their house whenever he was on leave. Fosca was a happy girl, though not the most beautiful. The Colonel confesses to introducing Fosca to the handsome Count Ludovic of Austria who charmed her and ultimately asked for her hand in marriage ("Flashback - Part I"). Once the Count got Fosca's hand and received her sizable dowry, he gambled away her money and cheated on her ("Flashback - Part II"). When confronted, the Count abandoned her ("Flashback - Part III"). Fosca then returned home to find her parents impoverished and in poor health. Her own health began to fail, and she began suffering the first of her convulsions. She went and searched for her husband; he was nowhere to be found. Her parents both died, and she came to live with the Colonel, who in some way felt responsible for the circumstances ("Flashback - Part IV").

Clara writes Giorgio another letter; this one is a bit more melancholy. She is worried that the next time they see each other, they will be old and gray ("Sunrise Letter"). As Giorgio reads the letter, Fosca creeps up on him and asks why he has been avoiding her since her recovery. Once again, she is acting possessive and slightly manic. She begs him for a kiss, but he recoils. She then grabs his hand and kisses it herself. Giorgio finally loses his patience and tells Fosca to leave him alone. What she finds to be love is more like a curse to him ("Scene 9"). Rain and thunder begin, and Fosca goes to leave. On her way out, she falls. Initially, Giorgio walks past her, but he returns to carry back to her room.

Back in the barracks, the soldiers question Fosca and Giorgio's relationship. They know that the only reason she comes to every meal is because of him. Several of them also bet that Giorgio will be promoted to General by next week ("Scene 10").

Time passes and Giorgio has nightmares of Fosca dragging him down into the grave with her ("Nightmare"). The Doctor comes in to calm him and explains that Giorgio became ill after carrying Fosca back in the rain two days ago. The Doctor puts Giorgio on a forty-day sick leave in Milan - he hopes this will end the relationship between Giorgio and Fosca.

Giorgio gets well enough to take a train to Milan. Clara is ecstatic at the news ("Forty Days"). However, Fosca has followed Giorgio onto the train. She promises to stay out of his way. Again, Giorgio asks her to leave him alone and face the facts. She tells him that it isn't a choice she has made. She loves him, and she has no control over it ("Loving You"). Before this can go any further, Giorgio gets off the train at the next stop so he can escort her back home.

Back at the camp Giorgio talks with the Doctor who apologizes for having brought Fosca into his life. The Doctor, being one of Giorgio's superiors, even offers to help get Giorgio transferred for good. Strangely enough, Giorgio refuses this. He feels it is his duty to help Fosca. The Doctor tells him that is ridiculous because no one can help her. The soldiers speculate that Giorgio is on leave because he is in too deep with Fosca ("Scene 11").

In Milan, Clara and Giorgio meet, and Clara gives Giorgio what she thinks is the greatest news of all. Her husband is going to Rome for a few days so they'll be able to spend some wonderful nights together, not simply their shuttered afternoons ("Scene 12"). Giorgio tells her that he isn't going to take the forty days of sick leave. Instead, he will only spend four days with her in Milan. Clara is infuriated by this and accuses him of being obsessed with Fosca. He tells her that he has a responsibility to her. He presses Clara to leave her husband and live with him. She reminds him that she would lose her child if she did. Giorgio begs her to take the child and run off with him. She can't leave her present obligations. They declare their love for each other and decide to enjoy the next four days together.

Giorgio returns to the barracks in time for the annual Christmas party ("Christmas Music"). He is met with some rather startling news from the Colonel: Giorgio has been transferred back to headquarters immediately. Upon hearing this, Fosca throws herself into Giorgio's arms and begs him not to leave. Seeing this, the Colonel reprimands his cousin like an errant child and she runs off screaming. The Doctor follows right behind her.

Clara writes Giorgio begging him not to let things change things between them. Maybe she'll leave her husband when her son goes off to school, but until that time there is nothing she can do ("Scene 13"). Giorgio realizes that the two of them see love in a very different way. The Colonel enters angrily; he has the letter Giorgio wrote to Fosca - the one she dictated to him. The Colonel feels betrayed by Giorgio. Their argument becomes so heated that the Colonel challenges Giorgio to a duel. The Doctor tries to intervene and asks Giorgio to explain what really happened; however, Giorgio stands silent. The Colonel asks that Fosca hear nothing of this matter, and Giorgio obliges his request.

Giorgio goes to see Fosca against the Doctor's orders. He explains that he had nothing to do with the transfer. She knows that now because the Doctor told her. Giorgio tells her that his affair with Clara is over. He thought he loved her, but he realizes that no one has loved him as deeply as Fosca. Love without any judgment is what Fosca has given him, and he cherishes it very greatly ("Scene 14"). Before he leaves her, she pulls him towards the bed. They kiss and he carries her to the bed. He starts to leave and she pulls him down onto the bed.

The next morning Giorgio and the Colonel have their duel with pistols. The Colonel falls to the ground. Giorgio, standing alone, lets out a high-pitched howl - much like Fosca's.

Some time later, Giorgio sits in a daze at a desk. A nurse enters and brings him a letter from the Doctor. Fosca died a three days after the night Giorgio last saw her. She knew nothing of what took place between him and the Colonel. The Colonel's wound was serious, but not mortal. He recovered in a few months. The Doctor confesses that he never tried to convince the Colonel of Giorgio's innocence fearing that it might do more harm than good. He sent a box with papers Giorgio had left behind in his desk. The Doctor also enclosed some personal belongings of Fosca's and a letter written to him just prior to her death. Her letter, though stating that for once she wanted to live, says that she was able to die in peace knowing that true love was at last hers. Giorgio sits alone with the letter and his memory of Fosca ("Finale").



Cast Size: Flexible Cast Size
Cast Type: Mainly Men
Dance Requirements: None

Character Breakdown

Giorgio's lover. Married to a man with whom she shares a son. Beautiful and shallow.
Gender: female
Age: 20 to 25
Vocal range top: F5
Vocal range bottom: Ab3
Giorgio Bachetti
Army Captain. He is a heroic, handsome romantic that is on his way up in the army ranks.
Gender: male
Age: 20 to 28
Vocal range top: G4
Vocal range bottom: F2
Army Lieutenant. Given to laughter and perhaps a bit overweight, he has a lovely singing voice and is quite aware of the business of others.
Gender: male
Age: 40 to 50
Vocal range top: G4
Vocal range bottom: B2
Army Colonel. Fosca's guardian and cousin, his demeanor is typically one of love and benevolence.
Gender: male
Age: 40 to 50
Vocal range top: G4
Vocal range bottom: Db3
A well respected Doctor. Though aloof at times, he sincerely cares for Fosca.
Gender: male
Age: 50 to 60
Cook (lombardi)
Army Sergeant. Has no talent for cooking but remains determined. He is impish and can be found gossiping.
Gender: male
Age: 30 to 45
Vocal range top: F#4
Vocal range bottom: B2
Army Lieutenant. Quick witted and in possession of a razor sharp tongue, he is an avid gambler.
Gender: male
Age: 40 to 50
Vocal range top: E4
Vocal range bottom: A2
Army Private and mail carrier. The youngest among the group, he has a genuine and sweet disposition.
Gender: male
Age: 18 to 21
Vocal range top: G4
Vocal range bottom: B2
Colonel Ricci's cousin. Very sickly and unattractive, she is deeply emotionally damaged. Her desire to be loved teeters between longing and desperation. Smart, well read, and bold.
Gender: female
Age: 20 to 25
Vocal range top: D5
Vocal range bottom: F3
Attendants; Figures From Fosca's Past (Fosca's Father, Fosca's Mother, Ludovic, Mistress); Soldiers
Full Song List
Passion: Happiness
Passion: First Letter
Passion: Second Letter
Passion: Third Letter
Passion: Fourth Letter
Passion: I Read
Passion: Garden Sequence
Passion: Fifth Letter (Trio)
Passion: I Wish I Could Forget You
Passion: Soldier's Gossip
Passion: Flashback
Passion: Sunrise Letter
Passion: Is This What You Call Love?
Passion: Soldier's Gossip (Reprise)
Passion: Forty Days
Passion: Loving You
Passion: Soldier's Gossip (Reprise)
Passion: Farewell Letter
Passion: No One Has Ever Loved Me
Passion: Finale

Show History


Passion is adapted from the 1981 Italian film Passione d'Amore directed by Ettore Scola. The film, in turn, is adapted from the 19th Century novel Fosca by the experimental Italian writer Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. The novel was a fictionalized recounting of an affair Tarchetti had once had with an epileptic woman when he was a soldier.

Sondheim first came up with the idea of writing a musical when he saw the Italian film in 1983:

"As Fosca started to speak and the camera cut back to her, I had my epiphany. I realized that the story was not about how she is going to fall in love with him, but about how he is going to fall in love with her . . . at the same time thinking, "They're never going to convince me of that, they're never going to pull that off," all the while knowing they would, that Scola wouldn't have taken on such a ripely melodramatic story unless he was convinced that he could make it plausible. By the end of the movie, the unwritten songs in my head were brimming and I was certain of two things. First, I wanted to make it into a musical, the problem being that it couldn't be a musical, not even in my nontraditional style, because the characters were so outsized. Second, I wanted James Lapine to write it; he was a romantic, he had a feel for different centuries and different cultures, and he was enthusiastically attracted to weirdness."


Critical Reaction

" the most thrilling piece of theatre on Broadway." -New York Post

"Passion is...the most engaging new musical Broadway has had in years...our theatre's most provocative composer and lyricist is still reinventing the form while honoring it, still writing shows that tell haunting tales while delighting the eye and ear."

"Once in an extraordinary while, you sit in a theater and your body shivers with the sense and thrill of something so new, so unexpected, that it seems, for those fugitive moments, more like life than art. Passion is just plain wonderful emotional and yes, passionate . . . Sondheim's music his most expressive yet glows and glowers. Exultantly dramatic, this it the most thrilling piece of theater on Broadway." Clive Barnes, The New York Times.






Tony® Award

1983 - Featured Actress In A Play, Nominee (Roxanne Hart)
1994 - Costume Design, Nominee (Jane Greenwood)
1994 - Best Original Score, Winner (Stephen Sondheim)
1994 - Direction Of A Musical, Nominee (James Lapine)
1994 - Best Actor in a Musical, Nominee (Jere Shea)
1994 - Featured Actor In A Musical, Nominee (Tom Aldredge)
1994 - Best Actress in a Musical, Winner (Donna Murphy)
1994 - Featured Actress In A Musical, Nominee (Marin Mazzie)
1994 - Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Nominee (Tom Aldredge)
1994 - Leading Actor In A Musical, Nominee (Jere Shea)
1994 - Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Nominee (Marin Mazzie)
1994 - Leading Actress In A Musical, Winner (Donna Murphy)
1994 - Best Costume Design, Nominee (Jane Greenwood)
1994 - Lighting Design, Nominee (Beverly Emmons)
1994 - Best Lighting Design, Nominee (Beverly Emmons)
1994 - Musical, Winner (The Shubert Organization, Capital Cities/ABC, Roger Berlind, Scott Rudin. (producers))
1994 - Best Direction Of A Musical, Nominee (James Lapine)
1994 - Original Musical Score, Winner (Stephen Sondheim)
1994 - Best Musical, Winner (Passion)
1994 - Book Of A Musical, Winner (James Lapine)
1994 - Best Book Of A Musical, Winner (James Lapine)

Drama Desk Award

1994 - Outstanding Book of a Musical, Winner (James Lapine)
1994 - Outstanding Direction of a Musical, Nominee (James Lapine)
1994 - Outstanding Director Of A Musical, Nominee (James Lapine)
1994 - Outstanding Music, Winner (Stephen Sondheim)
1994 - Outstanding Lighting Design, Nominee (Beverly Emmons)
1994 - Outstanding Lyrics, Winner (Stephen Sondheim)
1994 - Outstanding Lyrics, Winner (Stephen Sondheim)
1994 - Outstanding Orchestrations, Winner (Jonathan Tunick)
1994 - Outstanding Music, Winner (Stephen Sondheim)
1994 - Outstanding Costume Design, Nominee (Jane Greenwood)
1994 - Outstanding Musical, Winner ()
1994 - Outstanding Lighting Design, Nominee (Beverly Emmons)
1994 - Outstanding Orchestration, Winner (Jonathan Tunick)
1994 - Outstanding Set Design, Nominee (Adrianne Lobel)
1994 - Outstanding Set Design, Nominee (Andrianne Lobel)
1994 - Outstanding Musical, Winner (Passion)
1994 - Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Nominee (Jere Shea)
1994 - Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Nominee (Jere Shea)
1994 - Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Winner (Donna Murphy)
1994 - Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Winner (Donna Murphy)

Outer Critics Circle Award

1994 - Best Broadway Musical, Nominee (Passion)



Based on the film, Passione d'Amore directed by Ettore Scola


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Music and Lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM 100%
Book by JAMES LAPINE 100%


Based on the film, "Passione d'Amore"
Directed by Ettore Scola 50%
The following must be in your program only:
Originally Directed on Broadway by James Lapine 50%
Originally Produced on Broadway in 1994 35%
by The Shubert Organization - Roger Berlind
Capital Cities/ABC - Scott Rudin
by Arrangement with Lincoln Center Theater
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick 25%
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