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Swan Song is a short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in the Grand Magazine in September 1926. In the U.K. the story was subsequently collected and published as part of the anthology The Listerdale Mystery which came out in 1934. In the U.S. the story was not published in any collection until 1971 when it came out as part of The Golden Ball and Other Stories.


Lady Rustonbury asks the famous opera singer Paula Nazorkoff to stage a private performance of an opera such as Madam Butterfly. Nazorkoff is reluctant at first but suddenly agrees, but she has one condition: the opera must be Tosca or nothing....

Plot summary[]

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

Madame Paula Nazorkoff, the famous but temperamental operatic soprano, is in London for a short series of appearances. Her manager, Mr Cowan, has arranged five appearances at Covent Garden as well as a single appearance at the Albert Hall and also a performance of Madame Butterfly at the private theatre in the castle home of Lord and Lady Rustonbury where royalty will be present. The name seems familiar to Madame Nazorkoff and she realises that she read of it in an illustrated magazine, which is still with her in her Ritz Hotel room. Scanning through it, she immediately becomes less scornful of the idea but insists that the performance be changed to Tosca. Mr Cowan hears her mutter, "At last, at last – after all these years".

Preparations on the day at the home of Lord Rustonbury are going well until Signor Roscari, due to sing the part of Scarpia, suddenly falls strangely ill. Lady Rustonbury remembers that a nearby neighbour is Edouard Bréon, the retired French baritone and she drives off to ask him to step in at the last moment. He agrees and returns. In the hall of the castle he reminisces over past performances of Tosca that he has heard, stating that the best one was over twenty years before by a young girl called Bianca Capelli. She was foolish though as she was in love with a man involved with the Camorra and begged Bréon to use his influence to save his life when he was condemned to death. Bréon states he did nothing for the man as he was not worth it and, after his execution, Capelli entered a convent. Nazorkoff claims that "as a Russian she is not so fickle". Blanche, the Rustonbury's daughter, watches Mr Cowan as Nazorkoff says these words and she notices a quick look of astonishment on his face.

The performance goes well and the invited audience are appreciative. The second act reaches its climax as the character of Tosca stabs Scarpia. After the curtain has fallen, one of stagehands rushes out and a doctor is called for. Nazorkoff was apparently so involved with her performance that she really did stab Bréon. Blanche knows differently though and she tells how she has realised that Nazorkoff was in fact Capelli, who has waited years for her revenge on the man who let her lover die – the story of Tosca has come to life. Cowan was surprised when Nazorkoff spoke about beng Russian. She might have taken a Russian name but he knows in reality she was Italian. As the police take Nazorkoff away, she quotes another line from opera – "La commedia è finita!" ("The show is over")


Cultural references mentioned[]

  • Operas: Tosca, Aida, Madama Butterfly, aria "Vissi D’Arte"
  • Operatic characters: Tosca, Scarpia, Cvaradossi, Rigoletto, Radames, Sharpless
  • Opera houses; Covent Garden, Royal Albert Hall, Metropolitan Opera House (New York)
  • Erard piano
  • Cars: Hispano-Suiza
  • Country Houses: Rustonbury Castle

Plot devices[]

References to other works[]

Film, TV, theatrical or other media adaptations[]

BBC Radio 4 adaptation[]

An adaptation was made for BBC Radio 4 and broadcast on 28 Jan 2002. Dramatised by Mike Walker and directed by Ned Chaillet, this retains the main premise but there are changes in characters and setting.

Publication history[]