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ClassicsOnline Home » MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana
"if you're on a shoestring budget, Naxos as usual has produced a very acceptable alternative"
Lidova Demokracie (Prague)
"The result is remarkable"
"a strong team in a winning performance"
Pietro Mascagni (1863 - 1945)
The composer of some fifteen operas, Pietro Mascagni is
best remembered for his most successful exercise in operatic realism,
Cavalleria Rusticana. He was born in Livorno in 1863 and later studied music at
the Milan Conservatory, where his teachers included Ponchielli. Dismissed
before the completion of his course, he earned a living as a double bass player
at the Teatro dal Verme and then as a conductor in a travelling opera company, before
winning unexpected success in 1888 in a competition for one-act operas mounted
by the publisher Sanzogno. One of three winning operas, Cavalleria Rusticana
was staged at the Teatro Constanzi in Rome in 1890 and won immediate success.
It was performed in the following year in Philadelphia and in New York and at
the Shaftesbury Theatre in London and in 1892 was mounted at Covent Garden.
Mascagni's later career was markedly less successful. L'amico
Fritz, staged in 1891, has remained in occasional repertoire, but it was the
realist Iris, with its exotic setting, that seemed about to equal the
popularity of Cavalleria Rusticana, although its initial success proved
transitory. The French revolutionary opera II piccolo Marat, in 1921, was
greeted with enthusiasm, but his later achievement as a composer of opera was
confined to the unsatisfactory Nerone, at a time when he had assumed duties as
a conductor at La Scala, after the departure of Toscanini, and become
associated in particular with the regime of Mussolini. He died in Rome in 1945.
Cavalleria Rusticana is based on a short story by
Giovanni Verga, later dramatised to provide a vehicle for Eleonora Duse and
translated into English, with other works of Verga, by D. H. Lawrence. The
original text belongs to the second period of Verga's writing, in which he
concentrated attention on Sicilian peasant life. Mascagni's music matches the
strong drama of its literary source, creating a work of a strength and
intensity that the composer was subsequently unable to match.
 The Prelude to the opera includes three thematic
elements that are of later importance. The first of these is associated with
the despair of Santuzza, who still loves Turiddu, in spite of his betrayal. A
second element makes use of part of the duet between Santuzza and Turiddu in
which she begs him not to follow Lola into the church, and the third is the
soldier Turiddu's love-song to Lola, sung by Turiddu behind the curtains, and
praising the beauty of his mistress, Lola, wife of Alfio, the teamster.
 The curtain rises to reveal a village square in Sicily.
On the right is a church and to the left an inn, where Turiddu's mother Lucia
lives. It is Easter morning. At first the stage is empty, and then, as day
dawns, peasants, men, women and children, cross the square to the church, which
they enter during the ensuing scene. The people welcome the sweetness of the
day, the beauty of orange-blossom, bird-song and meadows in flower. The men
welcome a day of rest and praise the beauty of the women, while all rejoice in
the delights of spring.
 Santuzza sadly approaches Lucia's tavern, seeking her
Lucia at first tells her nothing, but then explains that
her son has gone to Francofonte to fetch the wine. Santuzza, though, does not
believe this; Turiddu has been seen in the village in the night. Lucia asks if
Turiddu is in trouble, but Santuzza says she cannot tell her.
 The sound of the cracking of a whip and jingling of
harness is heard, as villagers enter, and then Alfio, singing in praise of his
life as a teamster, echoed by the others. He goes on to praise the beauty of
his wife Lola and her faithfulness. Now he is home again for Easter, and the
villagers echo his happiness, then moving off in various directions, some into
the church and some elsewhere.
 Mamma Lucia tells Alfio he is lucky to be always so
cheerful. He asks if she has had the wine yet that Turiddu was bringing, but
she tells him that her son has not yet returned. Alfio, though, has seen him in
the village, early in the morning, near his house. Santuzza warns Lucia to say
no more, and Alfio goes out to prepare for church. The voices of the people are
heard from the church singing the Regina coeli, joined in their devotions by
those who have not yet entered the church, led by Santuzza's hymn to the risen Saviour.
The people in the square now go into the church, leaving Santuzza and Mamma Lucia
together outside. Lucia asks Santuzza why she had told her to be silent in
front of Alfio.
 Santuzza now explains how Turiddu, when he was first
a soldier, had once loved Lola and sworn eternal faith to her, but when he came
back he found her married then turned for consolation to Santuzza, who loved
him dearly, and he her. Lola, however, was envious and betrayed her husband
Alfio, to steal
Turiddu from Santuzza, who is now alone, abandoned, while
Lola and Turiddu are lovers again. Lucia is horrified and Santuzza in deep
despair. She is determined to try once more to win the love of Turiddu, and
Lucia prays that the Blessed Virgin may help her, as she goes into the church.
 Turiddu finding Santuzza alone outside the church,
asks why she has not gone in and then asks where his mother is. He is unwilling
to talk to Santuzza, who asks him where he has been. He tells her he has been
to Francofonte, but she accuses him of lying, since he was seen by Alfio near
Lola's house very early in the morning. Turiddu accuses Santuzza of wanting
Alfio to kill him and the two quarrel. Turiddu is not her slave and will not
tolerate her jealousy, while Santuzza pleads her love, however she is treated.
 Turiddu and Santuzza are interrupted by Lola, whose
voice is heard, as she approaches, singing praise of a flower, more beautiful
than the angels in heaven. She comes into the square, and asks Turiddu if he
has seen Alfio, and, turning to Santuzza, asks what she is doing. Santuzza
replies that on this
Easter morning the Lord sees everything; she is not going
to Mass, for only those who know they are without sin should go. Lola blithely
thanks the Lord that she is free from sin, but Santuzza reproaches her
bitterly. Turiddu, in embarrassment, urges that they should go in, but Lola
tells him he can stay outside with Santuzza, who herself demands his attention.
Lola goes into the church, leaving the two of them outside.
 Turiddu ironically reproaches Santuzza, who earnestly
entreats his attention, begging him not to abandon her. Turiddu, however,
resents her insistence. Santuzza implores him, but he is obdurate; nothing she
can say will make him forgive her. Their quarrel reaches a height of passion,
until Santuzza, driven to desperation, threatens him, at which he throws her
down, making his escape from her into the church. At the height of her anger Santuzza
curses her betrayer, and falls to the ground, in despair and anguish.
 At this moment Alfio comes in. Santuzza pulls
herself together and tells him he must be sent by the Lord; he should know that
Turiddu is in the church with Lola. Alfio is surprised, but Santuzza goes on to
tell him that while he is away working, earning a living, Lola has been
thinking only of Turiddu; Turiddu had promised to love her, but now he has
betrayed her, his love stolen by Lola.
Alfio threatens to kill her, if she is lying, but she
assures him that she has told him the truth, to which she swears. Alfio pauses
a moment, thanks her, and then bursts out in fierce anger, vowing vengeance on
the pair of them.
Santuzza blames herself for speaking out, but nothing
will now hold Alfio back.
 The Intermezzo reflects the drama that has occurred
and what is to follow.
 Its hushed conclusion is followed by the sound of
the bells, as the people come out of the church, including Lucia, who crosses
the square to the inn.
The villagers prepare to go home to enjoy the day of
rest. Lola and Turiddu leave the church together, and he asks her not to leave
their company, but she says she is looking for Alfio.
 Turiddu suggests that his friends and neighbours
should join him in a drink and sings a drinking-song. He drinks to Lola's admirers,
and she responds by drinking to his good fortune.
 As the drinking-song comes to an end, Alfio comes
in, greeting his neighbours. Turiddu invites him to join them in a drink, but
Alfio refuses; the wine would turn to poison, were he to drink it. Turiddu
throws out the wine. At this some of the women approach Lola, softly urging her
to come away with them. Left together, Turiddu asks if Alfio has anything to
say to him; he will be ready when Alfio wants him. They embrace and Turiddu
bites Alfio's right ear.
The latter accepts the challenge. Turiddu acknowledges
the wrong he has done to Alfio, but if Alfio kills him, Santuzza will be left
alone; she trusted him, and he betrayed her. Now he must kill Alfio, who tells
him that he will be waiting for him behind the orchard.
 Turiddu, now alone, calls to his mother and when she
comes out, tells her that the wine has gone to his head; he will go for a walk
in the orchard to clear his head, but first he seeks her blessing, as he did
when he first went as a soldier. He begs her to look after Santuzza, if he does
not come back, and to treat her as a daughter. He parries her question, but
asks her to pray to God for his forgiveness. He seeks one last kiss from his
mother, before running out in despair. Lucia is bewildered and afraid and calls
her son's name. Santuzza joins her and other people enter, agitated and
anxious. There is a confused murmur in the distance, and the voice of a woman
is heard crying that they have killed Turiddu. As people rush in, Santuzza
cries out and falls senseless, and Lucia, fainting, is supported by the women
of the village. The tragedy is complete.
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MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana