Wednesday, February 8, 2012

OTF - Cavalleria rusticana

This is my Once or Twice a Fortnight post from February 8th, 2012.

This month many of my posts here and elsewhere are part of a larger series that I call “The Terrible Twos”, which highlight music relating to pairs, couples and such. In opera, other than famous couples of performers and protagonists, the biggest pairing has to be that of the two late 19th century operas we have come to simply refer to as “CAV and PAG”. They are paired together for many reasons: they are contemporary works (composed between 1890 and 1892), follow the same verisimo (or opera-vérité) style and are of such a duration that they fit well within a typical opera programme.

CAV was composed first, premiering on May 17, 1890 and tackles topics of adultery, betrayal and honour, culminating with an off-stage duel between two of the protagonists creating a tearful, dramatic climax. Submitted as part of a competition, Cavalleria rusticana was composed (music and libretto) from scratch inunder two months, and was among the three works to be selected for performance by the jury! It is the first Mascagni opera to be completed and performed. It remains the best known of his fifteen operas and one operetta; apart from Cavalleria rusticana, only Iris and L'amico Fritz have remained in the standard repertore.

Its success has been phenomenal from its first performance in the Teatro Costanzi in Rome until the present day. At the time of Mascagni's death in 1945, the opera had been performed more than 14,000 times in Italy alone!

The Performance

For this OTF performance, I wanted to use a vintage, public domain performance and was fortunate enough to find a pairing of CAV and PAG that were directed by Tullio Serafin (1878 - 1968) featuring cast overlaps between the CAV and PAG performances, notably tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano and soprano Maria Callaswho at the time of these recordings (1953-54) were at the top of their game.

Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) (1890)
opera in one act adapted from a play written by Giovanni Verga based on his short story (1875).

Santuzza – Maria Callas
Turiddu, - Giuseppe Di Stefano
Alfio – Rolando Panerai
Lucia – Ebe Ticozzi
Lola - Anna Maria Canali
La Scala (Milan) Orchestra and chorus under Tullio Serafin
Venue : Basilica di Santa Euphemia, Milan, Italy (06/16/1953-08/04/1953)

Synopsis (from

A Sicilian village, c. 1890. Early on Easter morning, Turiddu sings about his former beloved, Lola, now the wife of a wine carter, Alfio. As the town stirs, Santuzza, Turiddu's neglected sweetheart, comes looking for the handsome youth at the tavern of his mother, Lucia. The girl reveals she has been excommunicated, but before she can explain why, Alfio comes by with friends, boasting about his pretty young wife. A religious procession fills the square and enters the church for mass, leaving Santuzza to tell Mamma Lucia that Turiddu has taken up with Lola again. When the old woman has gone to mass, Santuzza confronts Turiddu with his betrayal. Lola passes by, and Turiddu follows her into church. Santuzza hurls a curse after him, then, consumed by jealousy, tells Alfio of Lola's infidelity. Santuzza immediately feels remorse, but the damage is done.

When the mass ends, Turiddu and the villagers drink wine, after which Alfio insults Turiddu, who accepts a challenge to duel with knives in a nearby orchard. He begs his mother to take care of Santuzza if he does not return. As Mamma Lucia and Santuzza wait anxiously, shouts rise in the distance. A woman stumbles in crying Turiddu has been killed.

Libretto (Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci):

Happy Listening!

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