Composer Giacomo Puccini struggled at first to fill the shoes of Italian opera king Giuseppe Verdi, receiving poor reviews for La Bohème and Madame Butterfly before they became established classics. But with Tosca, Puccini helped tear down the Italian Romantic tradition he inherited from Verdi. The opera announced Puccini’s embrace of verismo, a style that highlighted the seedier and at times brutal aspects of working class life. Like other verismo works, Tosca has political underpinnings: Set in Rome during the Napoleonic era, its tragic hero is an Italian patriot fighting against the French-dominated client government. The nationalist sentiment underscored the composer’s questionable ties to the Fascist movement later in his life (Mussolini claimed he applied for membership; Puccini denied it). Italian unification comes to George Mason via the Virginia Opera, which opened its season to accolades for Il Trovatore and continues to build an audience in the suburbs.

THE PERFORMANCE BEGINS AT 8 p.m. AT GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY’S CENTER FOR THE ARTS, ROUTE 123 AND BRADDOCK road, FAIRFAX, va. $44–$86. (703) 218-6500

More from WCP