Pietro Mascagni (1863 - 1945)
The composer of some fifteen operas, Pietro Mascagni isbest remembered for his most successful exercise in operatic realism,Cavalleria Rusticana. He was born in Livorno in 1863 and later studied music atthe Milan Conservatory, where his teachers included Ponchielli. Dismissedbefore the completion of his course, he earned a living as a double bass playerat the Teatro dal Verme and then as a conductor in a travelling opera company, beforewinning unexpected success in 1888 in a competition for one-act operas mountedby the publisher Sanzogno. One of three winning operas, Cavalleria Rusticanawas 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 atthe Shaftesbury Theatre in London and in 1892 was mounted at Covent Garden.
Mascagni's later career was markedly less successful. L'amicoFritz, staged in 1891, has remained in occasional repertoire, but it was therealist Iris, with its exotic setting, that seemed about to equal thepopularity of Cavalleria Rusticana, although its initial success provedtransitory. The French revolutionary opera II piccolo Marat, in 1921, wasgreeted with enthusiasm, but his later achievement as a composer of opera wasconfined to the unsatisfactory Nerone, at a time when he had assumed duties asa conductor at La Scala, after the departure of Toscanini, and becomeassociated in particular with the regime of Mussolini. He died in Rome in 1945.
Cavalleria Rusticana is based on a short story byGiovanni Verga, later dramatised to provide a vehicle for Eleonora Duse andtranslated into English, with other works of Verga, by D. H. Lawrence. Theoriginal text belongs to the second period of Verga's writing, in which heconcentrated attention on Sicilian peasant life. Mascagni's music matches thestrong drama of its literary source, creating a work of a strength andintensity that the composer was subsequently unable to match.
 The Prelude to the opera includes three thematicelements that are of later importance. The first of these is associated withthe despair of Santuzza, who still loves Turiddu, in spite of his betrayal. Asecond element makes use of part of the duet between Santuzza and Turiddu inwhich she begs him not to follow Lola into the church, and the third is thesoldier Turiddu's love-song to Lola, sung by Turiddu behind the curtains, andpraising 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 Lucialives. It is Easter morning. At first the stage is empty, and then, as daydawns, peasants, men, women and children, cross the square to the church, whichthey enter during the ensuing scene. The people welcome the sweetness of theday, the beauty of orange-blossom, bird-song and meadows in flower. The menwelcome a day of rest and praise the beauty of the women, while all rejoice inthe delights of spring.
 Santuzza sadly approaches Lucia's tavern, seeking herbeloved Turiddu.
Lucia at first tells her nothing, but then explains thather son has gone to Francofonte to fetch the wine. Santuzza, though, does notbelieve this; Turiddu has been seen in the village in the night. Lucia asks ifTuriddu is in trouble, but Santuzza says she cannot tell her.
 The sound of the cracking of a whip and jingling ofharness is heard, as villagers enter, and then Alfio, singing in praise of hislife as a teamster, echoed by the others. He goes on to praise the beauty ofhis wife Lola and her faithfulness. Now he is home again for Easter, and thevillagers echo his happiness, then moving off in various directions, some intothe church and some elsewhere.
 Mamma Lucia tells Alfio he is lucky to be always socheerful. He asks if she has had the wine yet that Turiddu was bringing, butshe tells him that her son has not yet returned. Alfio, though, has seen him inthe village, early in the morning, near his house. Santuzza warns Lucia to sayno more, and Alfio goes out to prepare for church. The voices of the people areheard from the church singing the Regina coeli, joined in their devotions bythose 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 Luciatogether outside. Lucia asks Santuzza why she had told her to be silent infront of Alfio.
 Santuzza now explains how Turiddu, when he was firsta soldier, had once loved Lola and sworn eternal faith to her, but when he cameback he found her married then turned for consolation to Santuzza, who lovedhim dearly, and he her. Lola, however, was envious and betrayed her husbandAlfio, to steal
Turiddu from Santuzza, who is now alone, abandoned, whileLola and Turiddu are lovers again. Lucia is horrified and Santuzza in deepdespair. She is determined to try once more to win the love of Turiddu, andLucia 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 unwillingto talk to Santuzza, who asks him where he has been. He tells her he has beento Francofonte, but she accuses him of lying, since he was seen by Alfio nearLola's house very early in the morning. Turiddu accuses Santuzza of wantingAlfio to kill him and the two quarrel. Turiddu is not her slave and will nottolerate her jealousy, while Santuzza pleads her love, however she is treated.
 Turiddu and Santuzza are interrupted by Lola, whosevoice is heard, as she approaches, singing praise of a flower, more beautifulthan the angels in heaven. She comes into the square, and asks Turiddu if hehas seen Alfio, and, turning to Santuzza, asks what she is doing. Santuzzareplies that on this
Easter morning the Lord sees everything; she is not goingto Mass, for only those who know they are without sin should go. Lola blithelythanks the Lord that she is free from sin, but Santuzza reproaches herbitterly. Turiddu, in embarrassment, urges that they should go in, but Lolatells 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 earnestlyentreats his attention, begging him not to abandon her. Turiddu, however,resents her insistence. Santuzza implores him, but he is obdurate; nothing shecan say will make him forgive her. Their quarrel reaches a height of passion,until Santuzza, driven to desperation, threatens him, at which he throws herdown, making his escape from her into the church. At the height of her anger Santuzzacurses her betrayer, and falls to the ground, in despair and anguish.
 At this moment Alfio comes