Opera Scotland

Cavalleria Rusticana Rustic Chivalry

Pietro Mascagni (born Livorno, 7 December 1863; died Rome, 2 August 1945)

Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci.

Play (1883) by Giovanni Verga (1840-1922).

First performance: Rome (Teatro Costanzi), 17 May 1890.
First UK performance: London (Shaftesbury Theatre), 19 October 1891.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 26 April 1892.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (New Athenaeum Theatre), 26 August 1989.

It is generally known that Mascagni is regarded as a one-work composer. While he went on to compose several competently produced operas, none of them have had anything approaching the success of this one act drama. Mascagni submitted it to the publisher Sonzogno as a competition entry, and it was one of three winners, and by far the most successful in performance. It quickly spread round the world. It contains several justifiably popular moments, including a choral set piece, the Easter Hymn, sung as the villagers assemble for the celebration, and an orchestral intermezzo played to an empty stage, while the service is taking place, and before the crisis develops,

The great difficulty this opera produced for managements was the lack of a second piece to pair with it. Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci arrived in 1892 and was swiftly found to be a near-ideal companion. Until then, strange things had happened. For instance when the Carl Rosa company took it on tour in 1892 they wanted a curtain-raiser, and used variously Bizet’s Djamileh, or the second act of Maritana or of Faust – a very strange idea to modern eyes.

Main Characters
Santuzza, a village girl (soprano)
Mamma Lucia, the innkeeper, Turiddu’s mother (mezzo-soprano)
Alfio, the village carter (baritone)
Turiddu, a young soldier (tenor)
Lola, Alfio’s wife (mezzo-soprano)

Plot Summary
The setting is a peasant community in late 19th century Sicily on Easter morning. Santuzza is pregnant by her lover Turiddu, and has been excommunicated as a result. Turiddu is a soldier, and son to the village innkeeper, Mamma Lucia. He, however, has abandoned Santuzza and recommenced an affair with Lola, who had been his lover some time earlier. During his absence in the army, she had married the muleteer Alfio. Most of the villagers enter church for the Easter service. Santuzza waits for Turiddu and when he arrives she begs him to come back to her. However Lola now arrives, and when she enters the church, Turiddu goes too. Santuzza is thrown into a jealous rage by this, so when Alfio arrives she tells him all about his wife’s adultery. After the church service ends, the villagers gather in the main square. Alfio challenges Turiddu to a fight, and they go out behind the church, where Turiddu is killed.


SONY (1 CD) Sung in Italian Recorded 1974
Conductor: James Levine
National Philharmonic Orchestra
Renata Scotto (Santuzza), Placido Domingo (Turiddu), Pablo Elvira (Alfio)

This old RCA recording was well regarded when it first came out, and it still sounds excellent. Levine went on to become a long-term fixture at the Met, and this is essentially a New York cast, though recorded in London. Scotto had suffered years of neglect by the recording companies, but she was a great singing actress and her Santuzza is one of the best. They did not neglect her again. Domingo also gives a wonderful performance, and this cast is probably better than that assembled for his later recording. Pablo Elvira seems to have had a brief career, but the qualities shown here make you question why.

EMI, NAXOS, etc (1 CD or 2 CDs incl Pagliacci) Sung in Italian Recorded 1953

Conductor: Tullio Serafin.
Orchestra of La Scala Milan
Maria Callas (Santuzza), Giuseppe di Stefano (Turiddu), Roland Panerai (Alfio).

For many, despite the elderly recording, this performance is still valued for the contribution of Callas. The detail of characterisation is always illuminating. Di Stefano wears his heart on his sleeve, which is right for Turiddu, and a young baritone, Panerai, whose career went on for decades, is a good Alfio.

DG (1 CD) Sung in Italian Recorded 1966

Conductor: Herbert von Karajan. Orchestra of La Scala Milan Fiorenza Cossotto (Santuzza), Carlo Bergonzi (Turiddu), Gian Giacomo Guelfi (Alfio).

This classic set still sounds good, and the singing is excellent, Bergonzi in particular. Guelfi is a powerfully dramatic Alfio. Cossotto was unusual at the time as a mezzo recording this soprano role, but that is now quite common. Karajan produces a beautiful tone from the orchestra, though it still has plenty of red blood.

DIVINE ART (2CDs incl Pagliacci) Sung in English Recorded 1927

Conductor: Aylmer Buesst. Orchestra of BNOC May Blyth (Santuzza), Heddle Nash (Turiddu), Harold Williams (Alfio).

This is a fascinating example of vintage opera performance. The British National Opera Company operated from 1922 to 1929, playing in London as well as touring the country. They visited all four Scottish cities, with a repertoire that included large-scale Wagner and Verdi pieces and some quite unusual repertoire. To judge from these recordings of the ‘twins’ the standard of performance was high. Chorus singing is lively. Perhaps their words could be clearer, but then the translation does sound very dated. The soloists are all good. Heddle Nash was a famous tenor with a long and varied career, particularly remembered for oratorio. You can hear every word from him, and it is good to be reminded that he studied in Italy. May Blyth was a leading soprano singing roles like Aida and Mozart’s Countess. The Australian baritone Harold Williams was another excellent and versatile singer. All three project their words with great clarity.

The Cast

 the village carter
 Alfio’s wife
Mamma Lucia
 the innkeeper, Turiddu’s mother
 a village girl
 a young soldier

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