Cavalleria rusticana(i) (‘Rustic Chivalry’)
- Michele Girardi
Melodramma in one act by Pietro Mascagni to a libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci after giovanni Verga’s play based on his story; Rome, Teatro Costanzi, 17 May 1890.
Verga’s play Cavalleria rusticana received its first performance in the Teatro Carignano, Turin, on 14 January 1884 with Eleanora Duse as Santuzza. Mascagni saw it less than a month later in Milan but did not think of making it into an opera until June 1888, when he read in Il secolo that the publisher Sonzogno had announced the second competition for a one-act opera (Puccini had unsuccessfully submitted Le villi for the first). Mascagni commissioned the libretto from his fellow-citizen Targioni-Tozzetti who, worried about his ability to satisfy the precise terms of the competition, enlisted the help of another Livornese writer, Menasci. The libretto was ready in December 1888, the opera in May 1889; part of it was sent to Puccini and he in turn sent it to the publisher Giulio Ricordi, who failed to realize its worth, thus losing a golden opportunity. Needless to say, the opera won the competition and made a fortune for the publishing firm of Edoardo Sonzogno, who had arranged that the short season of the Teatro Costanzi in Rome would include the operas of the three finalists. Mascagni’s masterpiece, interpreted by Gemma Bellincioni and Roberto Stagno and conducted by Leopoldo Mugnone, was a resounding success and within a few months had been rapturously received in all the principal cities of Europe and America. For over a century it has found a place in the repertory of leading singers and conductors from Mahler, who conducted it in Budapest and included it in the programmes of the Vienna Staatsoper, through Levi and Weingartner and on to Karajan, among more recent performers. Today ...