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Pietro Mascagni

Rustic Chivalry

Cavalleria Rusticana - Domingo, Cossotto 1976

Cavalleria Rusticana 1968 - Herbert von Karajan

Pietro Mascagni - Cavalleria rusticana

Santuzza : Maria Callas
Turiddu : Giuseppe di Stefano
Alfio : Rolando Panerai
Lola : Anna Maria Canali
Mamma Lucia : Ebe Ticozzi

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Milano (1954)
Tullio Serafin

The title Cavalleria rusticana is usually translated as Rustic Chivalry. This is half ironic, as the behavior of most of the characters is anything but chivalrous. In fact, as Giovanni Verga originally wrote the story, it is downright barbarous-far more violent than in Mascagni's opera.

It is this quality—stark, naked passion, expressed in unabashed violence—that may partly account for the immediate success of the work. It is essentially, of course, a literary quality. Verga’s novelette is regarded as a minor literary classic, and Duse and other actresses used to have great success with the tale given as a spoken drama. It was one of the first and most prominent successes, in both literature and music, of the school of verismo—“the theory that in art and literature the ugly and vulgar have their place on the grounds of truth and aesthetic value,” to quote Webster.

The little work was the first of three winners in a prize contest held by the publisher Sonzogno, and it catapulted its completely unknown composer, then aged twenty-seven, into overnight fame. It was not a local fame. Even in New York there was a bitter fight for its premiere performance. Oscar Hammerstein, years before he built his great Manhattan Opera House, paid $3000 for the rights only to be anticipated by a rival manager named Aronson, who gave a so-called “public rehearsal” of the work on the afternoon of October 1, 1891.

Hammerstein’s performance took place the same evening. That was less than eighteen months after its Roman premiere. But before that all Italy had heard it, not to mention Stockholm, Madrid, Budapest, Hamburg, Prague, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Vienna, Bucharest, Philadelphia, Rio de Janeiro, Copenhagen, and Chicago, in the order named.


For well over half a century Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) lived on the fame and royalties won by this little masterpiece. He never composed another opera remotely approaching the success of Cavalleria, but he died in 1945 full of fame and honors.



(Rustic Chivalry)

Opera in one act by Pietro Mascagni
with libretto by Guido Menasci and Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti
based on a play by Giovanni Verga which is in turn
based on his own prose tale of the same title


Santuzza, a village girl
Turiddu, a young soldier
Mamma Lucia, his mother
Alfio, the village teamster
Lola, his wife


Time: an Easter Day in the late 19th century

Place: a village in Sicily
First performance at Rome, May 17, 1890




Soprano. A village girl in love with a young soldier, Turiddu. He returns from the army and she becomes pregnant, but he rejects her and returns to a former love, Lola, now married. In revenge she informs Lola's husband of his wife's unfaithfulness, leading to a duel in which Turiddu is killed. Arias: Voi lo sapete, o mamma (‘You know well, mamma’); Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto (‘Let us sing of the Lord now victorious’—known as the Easter Hymn). Although relatively short, this role continues to attract outstanding sopranos and mezzo‐sopranos, among whom may be mentioned Giulietta Simionato, Zinka Milanov, Eileen Farrell, Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Fiorenza Cossotto, Victoria de los Angeles, Elena Souliotis, Elena Obraztsova, Rita Hunter, and Julia Varady. Created (1890) by Gemma Bellincioni (whose husband created Turiddu).



Tenor. A young soldier, son of Mama Lucia. He leaves his lover, Lola, and joins the army, and when he returns she has married Alfio. He seduces Santuzza who becomes pregnant, and he then rejects her. When Santuzza tells Alfio of his wife's affair, Alfio kills Turiddu in a duel. Created (1890) by Roberto Stagno (whose wife created Santuzza).

Mamma Lucia:

Contralto. Mamma Lucia, mother of Turiddu, who has rejected the pregnant Santuzza. She is torn between love of her son and pity for the girl. Created (1890) by Frederica Casali.



Baritone. Village teamster, husband of Lola, who resumes her earlier affair with Turiddu. In a duel, Alfio kills Turiddu. Created (1890) by Gaudenzio Salassa.



Mezzo-soprano. Wife of Alfio, she resumes an affair with Turiddu. When Alfio finds out, he kills Turiddu in a duel. Created (1890) by Annetta Guli.



The story takes place in a Sicilian village at the end of the last century. The time is Easter Sunday, and the prelude begins with quiet music, like a prayer. Soon it becomes more dramatic, and in the middle of it is heard the voice of the leading tenor, off-stage, singing a love serenade—the Siciliana. He is the recently returned soldier Turiddu, and he is serenading his mistress, Lola.

After the prelude, the orchestra and chorus set the scene for us by describing a fine Easter Sunday morning on the principal square of a Sicilian village. Presently the village girl, Santuzza, asks old Mamma Lucia about her son Turiddu.

Santuzza is badly worried because she is engaged to Turiddu, and some of his recent behavior has not been very fitting. The two women, however, are interrupted by the entrance of Alfio, a bluff, hearty, and popular young teamster, who sings a jolly song about his jolly life, as he cracks his whip (Il cavallo scalpita). He does not yet know that Turiddu has been making love to his pretty wife, Lola. A brief exchange with Mamma Lucia, in which he mentions that he had seen her son that morning near his house, makes Santuzza even more suspicious.

But now some organ music issues from the church. Off-stage, the choir sings. The villagers all kneel, and with Santuzza contributing a fine solo, they join in a beautiful prayer, the Regina coeli. A religious procession enters the church and the villagers follow, but Santuzza keeps old Lucia outside to tell her story. In the aria Voi lo sapete she tells how Turiddu, before he went to the Army, promised to marry her, how he returned and deserted her, and how he is now paying court to Lola. Lucia is shocked but promises no help. Therefore, when Turiddu himself comes in, Santuzza appeals to him directly. He offers unconvincing excuses, and he is growing very angry, when they are interrupted by the subject of the quarrel. Lola, very prettily dressed, comes in, on her way to church, singing a ditty about love; and when she has gone, the quarrel breaks out again with renewed violence. Finally, Turiddu will stand no more of it. He hurls Santuzza to the ground and storms into the church as she cries a curse after him.

The last one to come to church is Alfio. Santuzza stops him, too, and almost before she knows it, has told him of the goings-on between Lola and Turiddu. Santuzza’s earnestness leaves no doubt in his mind that she is telling the truth. He runs off, swearing a terrible vengeance, and Santuzza, filled with remorse, follows him.

With the stage empty, the orchestra plays the lovely, devotional Intermezzo. It is an ironically peaceful comment on the murderous passions that have been aroused.

Now church is over, and the villagers pour happily out. Turiddu invites everyone to a drink and sings his gay Brindisi, or Drinking Song. But Alfio, in a menacing mood, comes on the scene and angrily refuses Turiddu's offer of a drink. The two men confront each other, a challenge is exchanged, and Alfio imperturbably answers Turiddu's violent threats by saying he will meet him in the orchard. It is now Turiddu's turn to be filled with remorse. He calls his mother, bids her take care of Santuzza, takes a tearful farewell, and runs off. The terror-stricken Santuzza rushes in with some frightened neighbors, and a moment later a woman screams that Turiddu has been murdered. Alfio has won his duel.

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