Cavalleria rusticana, Opera by P. Mascagni
In the late 19th century, Italian opera entered the heyday of verismo – literally ‘truthfulness’. This new compositional and performative style would present on-stage events in close to real time and stay as true to ordinary life as possible, though its stories would often be highly dramatic and even shocking. One of the verismo movement’s earliest and brightest examples is Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni. After a highly successful premiere at Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 17 May 1890, the opera quickly entered the standard repertoire and enjoys regular revivals. Sometimes it shares a double bill with another verismo gem, Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo. This season, however, Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice gives Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana the full spotlight.
Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry in English) was composed in 1888 so that Mascagni could take part in Edoardo Sonzogno’s competition for young composers. The prize: each of the three winners’ works would be staged in Rome for free. Facing a tight two-month deadline, Mascagni joined forces with librettists Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci. The plot originated from the play of the same name by Giovanni Verga. Cavalleria rusticana’s action takes place in Sicily. Turiddu returns from army duty, anticipating his reunion with the lovely Lola. To his dismay, however, in his absence she has wed the wealthy carter Alfio. Heartbroken, Turiddu begins an affair with Santuzza, but the new thrill pales in comparison to his undying connection to Lola. The two rival pairs run into each other, provoke suspicion, jealousy, and vengefulness, and ultimately reach a shocking, tragic end. To the incendiary plot Mascagni added a similarly fiery score.
In the space of just one act, Cavalleria rusticana unfolds at a rapid pace, racing down to its dramatic, violent ending. Even though Mascagni was working on two other operas at the same time and he composed a total of fifteen over his lifetime, none would achieve the impact or the fame of Cavalleria rusticana. When he entered Sonzogno’s competition, the composer inadvertently gave the verismo movement a powerful push that echoed over decades to come. Experience opera vera at its finest at Gran Teatro La Fenice this season!