MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni / La Scala) (1940) (Beniamino Gigli/ Berlin State Opera Orchestra/ Gino Bechi/ Lina Bruna-Rasa/ Maria Marcucci/ Milan La Scala Chorus/ Milan La Scala Orchestra/ Pietro Mascagni/ Ward Marston) (Naxos Historical: 8.1
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Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945): Cavalleria Rusticana
There is no doubt that Pietro Mascagnis reputation rests primarily on Cavalleria rusticana, a pioneering example of verismo, realism, in Italian opera. Born in 1863 in Livorno, the son of a baker, through the intervention of a rich patron he was able to study at Milan Conservatory as a pupil of Ponchielli, sharing rooms with Puccini, five years his senior, but soon left to embark on a career as a composer and conductor. In 1885 he had his operetta Il re a Napoli (The King in Naples) staged by a provincial touring company, but his great success came with triumph in the 1888 one-act opera competition of the publisher Sonzogno and the staging of his award-winning Cavalleria rusticana in Rome in 1890. He followed this in 1891 with Lamico Fritz, a gentle comedy in a pastoral setting, but in contrast to the preceding work. The Intermezzo is included in the present release, together with the overture to I Rantzau, also set in Alsace and successfully mounted in Florence in 1892. The Intermezzo from Mascagnis operatic version of Heines, Guglielmo Ratcliff, a Scottish tragedy of murder and revenge, is followed by two excerpts from the exotic Iris of 1898, a forerunner, in its Japanese setting, of Puccinis Madama Butterfly. From Iris comes the evocative introductory Hymn to the Sun and dances. Le maschere, staged in simultaneously in seven Italian cities in 1901, was a generally unsuccessful attempt at revival of elements of the commedia dellarte. Mascagni continued to search for inspiration in new subjects and completed his last opera, the tragedy Nerone, in 1934. This was staged at La Scala the following year, with the support of the government, with whose policies the new work, a reaction against current modernism, and the composer were in agreement. Mascagni remained the symbol of a particular cultural epoch until his death in 1945.
On the departure of Toscanini from La Scala, an expression of his disagreement with the policies of Mussolini, Mascagni assumed duties there and a continuing connection with the now ruling party. The fiftieth anniversary of the first staging of Cavalleria rusticana was the occasion of particular celebration, represented by the present recording under the composers direction. The work is based on an 1883 play by the Sicilian-born writer Giovanni Verga, a drama translated, among other writings of Verga, by D.H.Lawrence.
In the anniversary performance the rôle of Turiddu was taken by a singer generally seen as the heir to Caruso, Beniamino Gigli. Born at Recanati, the son of a shoemaker, he had made his operatic début in 1914 at Rovigo in La Gioconda. He made his first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1920 as Faust in Boitos opera Mefistofele, now established in an international career, while at home he enjoyed the particular favour of Mussolini. After the war he was able to re-establish his international career with triumphant appearances throughout the world, until his retirement in 1956, the year before his death. He is partnered by Lina Bruna Rasa, a soprano who had made her operatic début at Genoa as Helen of Troy in Boitos Mefistofele and been engaged by Toscanini for La Scala, where she continued to appear during the following decade. She appeared in Mascagnis Nerone in 1935 and had an international career with particular success in verismo repertoire. The Italian baritone Gino Bechi sings Alfio. He had made his operatic début at Empoli four years earlier, when he sang Germont in La Bohème. He was associated with La Scala from 1939 to 1953, establishing himself as a leading dramatic baritone. He retired in 1961. Mamma Lucia is sung by the mezzo-soprano Giuletta Simionato, who had made her first appearance at La Scala a year earlier as Beppe in Lamico Fritz. She continued her association with La Scala and in an international career until her retirement in 1966.
 Mascagnis Introductory Speech
Dear listeners, I am Pietro Mascagni and I am talking to you to tell you that my Cavalleria rusticana is now fifty years old and because of my memories and the many kind messages I have received, I have not been able to resist the invitation of the distinguished company His Masters Voice and have decided to present the opera in a complete recording for the first time under my personal direction. My creation, which is brought to life by the most celebrated singers and by orchestral and choral forces that have no rival in the world, will remain a much better image of me than a signed photograph. And I, who have signed so many autographs, have never provided one more gladly, because it is the most vivid and one that can represent better than anything the dual nature of my career, as a composer and as a conductor of my music. I salute you cordially, before raising my baton.
 The Prelude presents three melodies that have later importance in the opera. After the opening, suggesting the church, themes associated with Santuzzas pleas to Turiddu are heard.
 The introduction to the opera continues with the sound of Turiddu, with a harp accompaniment, daring to sing of his love for Lola, even if it brings his death.
 The curtain rises to reveal a village square in Sicily. To the right, in the background, is a church, and to the left the inn and house of Mamma Lucia. It is Easter morning and the church bells are heard. As the day dawns, people gather, the church doors open and they enter. The voices of the women are heard welcoming the orange-blossom and the coming of spring. They are joined with those of the men, now resting from their labour in the fields.
 The square is now empty and Santuzza comes in, approaching the house of Mamma Lucia, calling to her to find out where her son Turiddu is. Mamma Lucia is unwilling to tell her, but Santuzza begs her. Lucia tells her that he has gone to fetch wine from Francofonte, but Santuzza says that someone saw him in the village the night before. Lucia invites her in, but Santuzza refuses, since she is an outcast, a sinner. Lucia asks if her son Turiddu is in any trouble, but Santuzza does not like to tell her what she knows.
 The sound of the crack of a whip is heard and of carriage bells, as Alfio, the village carter, appears, happily praising his work, and joined now by a group of men who echo his sentiments. He goes on to celebrate the beauty of his faithful wife, Lola, who loves him and is faithful to him. The women enter, joining in Alfios joyful song.
 The people disperse, some going into the church and others leaving in different directions. Mamma Lucia compliments Alfio on his happy temperament. He asks her if she has yet received the wine she was expecting, and she tells him that Turiddu has not yet returned. Alfio, however, had seen Turiddu early in the morning in the village, near his own house. Santuzza interrupts to prevent Lucia saying more, while Alfio leaves to prepare himself for church, from which voices are now heard singing the Regina coeli, while others, outside the church, busy themselves with their own devotions. They are joined by Santuzza and Lucia. Finally those who are still outside in the square go into the church, leaving Santuzza and Lucia alone. Lucia asks Santuzza why she told her to be silent.
 Santuzza tells Lucia of the situation, how Turiddu was in love on