Cavalleria rusticana, Mascagni

The online opera guide about CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

Interesting facts and great YouTube Videos about Pietro Mascagni’s CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA. Highlights are «Ineggiamo» with Maria Callas«,  Quel vino e generoso » with Franco Corelli and the «Intermezzo».


Overview and quick access




♪ Scenes 1-6  (Church-Scene)

♪ Scenes 7-12 (Tavern-Scene)

♪ Recording recommendation




Gli aranci oleazzano

Ineggiamo (Easter hymn)

Voi lo sapete

No, no, Turiddu


Viva il vino spumeggiante

Quel vino è generoso





Roles and Synopsis




Paris, 1884


Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille, based on the novel Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost.

The main roles

Manon, Young Woman (soprano) - Lescaut, Cousin of Manon (baritone) - Des Grieux, Chevalier from a Noble Family (baritone) - Des Grieux, Count and Father of the Chevalier Des Grieux (bass) - Guillot, Wealthy Man (tenor) - De Brétigny, Wealthy Nobleman (baritone)

Recording recommendation

EMI, Victoria De Los Angeles, Henry Legay and Michel Dens conducted by Pierre Monteux and the chorus and orchestra of the Opéra comique of Paris or EMI, Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna and José van Dam conducted by Antonio Pappano and the chorus and orchestre de la monnaie.








Sonzogno’s Competition

In 1888, the publisher Sonzogno announced a competition for talented composers under thirty years of age to submit a one-act opera. The three best were to be awarded prizes and performed in Rome. After the three performances, Mascagni’s work was awarded first prize.




The libretto is based in detail on a work by the Italian poet and founder of verism Giovanni Varga. The action takes place in one day on a Sicilian village square, located between a tavern and the church. Mascagni saw Varga’s theater version five years earlier at the age of 20. When the competition was announced, Mascagni’s friend and later librettist Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti happened to see a performance and suggested the theme to Mascagni, to which he enthusiastically agreed. The third in the group, 21-year-old Guido Menasci, joined the two as co-librettist.




Mascagni’s Cavalleria was the first musical work of this genre. The Verismo style combined realistic theater with raw emotional music. To achieve the greatest possible effect, the music wanted to express violent passions and intense feelings. It should touch the heart of the listener and appeal to his sensitive sides. The elaborate song was abandoned in favor of dramatic vocal lines.

The plot is set in the confines of a strict Sicilian moral order. The drama is heightened because all the characters are guilty. Lola cheats on her husband, Turiddu has dishonored Santuzza because he slept with her without marrying her, Santuzza betrays Turiddu to Alfio, which has evil consequences, and finally Alfio makes himself guilty by murdering Turiddu.



The music: the leitmotifs

Mascagni wrote the music of the Cavalleria with the help of just over half a dozen leitmotifs. Mascagni’s main technique was to create concise motifs and to reassemble them again and again as musical building blocks for the numbers. Because of the importance of these motifs, you will find them listed with examples of notes in the commentaries to the most important passages of the opera.



The music: the orchestra

Through the frequent quoting of leitmotifs and the expressive preludes and interludes, the orchestra occupies a prominent position in this opera, which can be described by the role of the narrator. It is no coincidence that with the “Intermezzo” a symphonic element had the honor of having become the most famous piece of music of the “Cavalleria rusticana”. Occasionally Mascagni’s music was accused of weaknesses in orchestration, such as the frequent doubling of vocal lines. However, the orchestral music is enormously effective and has contributed greatly to the fame and popularity of the work.



The music: the choir

The choir in Cavalleria rusticana is more than a tonal background: it represents the people of the small village and takes part in the action, whether in the form of a church community, as guests of the tavern or with the song of the workers. The choir also has a dramatic role, by creating the publicity. Nothing remains secret in this village, and appearances must always be kept up, personal honor is the highest good. Thus, Santuzza’s true dialogue with Turiddu and then with Alfio can only arise, when the people are in the church and they are alone together.



Santuzza’s role

The drama of the characters takes place in the duets. Santuzza is involved in all the duets and thus becomes the central bearer of the dramatic and musical plot. The role of Santuzza calls for a great singer-actress. The first interpreter of Santa (as the role in Vargas’ play was called) was Eleonora Duse, who must have been a great actress on the level of a Sarah Bernhard. With her interpretation she set standards for the future singers of this role. Their voices must be dramatic, have a great volume, radiate passion and be able to show sharpness even to the point of screaming.



The premiere

The world premiere in Rome in 1890 was one of the greatest triumphs in the history of opera. Mascagni had to appear 60 times for his curtain calls which lasted roughly as long as the one-act performance. The work quickly began its triumphal procession around the world, which it has maintained until today. It is part of Mascagni’s triumph and tragedy that in later years he could not repeat this success of his younger years.







Synopsis: A Sicilian village on an Easter morning. Once Turiddu was the lover of Lola. When he returned from military service she was married to Alfio and he consolated himself with Santuzza. Meanwhile, Lola ensnares her former lover again.

Already with the overture Mascagni overwhelms the listener with the use of all expressive means: the sweet pain of the long cantilenas, the vibrating tremolo of the strings, the enticing sounds of the harps and the blaring passion of the trumpets. The overture is characterized by four of the most important motifs of this opera, which appear more or less strung together, only interrupted by the “Siciliana” of Turiddu.

The overture begins with an evocative motif that we will encounter in the church. It is a religious motif with which Santuzza will implore Lucia to pray for her; in Mascagni’s score instruction, it says “dolce e religioso”:



When the harps begin, we hear the so-called tear motif with which Santuzza later, in a duet, begs Turiddu in tears to return to him:



Immediately afterwards a hot-blooded theme begins, it is the so-called jealousy motif, which we will encounter again in Santuzza’s great aria:


After the interlude of the Siciliana of Turiddu, we hear a new motif in the wind section after a transition. It is the motif with which Santuzza in the great duet will invite Turiddu to stay (persuasion motif):


The motif is brilliantly repeated in the orchestra, but is followed by the tear motif at the end, thus anticipating the outcome of this opera.

Preludio  –  Karajan


Synopsis: The day dawns, the villagers gather in front of the church.

Introduced by church bells, we hear the Easter motif:


Afterwards we listen to alternating female choir and male choir.

Gli aranci oleazzano  –  Cellini/RCA


Synopsis: Santuzza visits Turiddu’s mother and wants to know where Turiddu is hiding. But Lucia cannot help him. Alfio appears. He is the husband of Lola. He was absent for work and comes back home.

The rhythmically restless music of Alfio, gives an idea of the instability and emotionality of Alfio, which will lead to misfortune.

Il cavallo scalpita  –  Karajan/Guelfi

Inneggiamo – a great opera moment

Synopsis: Santuzza is desperate and goes to the church where she hopes to meet Turiddu. The villagers enter the church.

The Easter hymn “‘Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto” is one of the absolute highlights of the opera. Santuzza sings an Easter hymn in front of the church square and is accompanied by the choir singing in the church.

Experience how Maria Callas lets her soul flow into the music and the voice leads to a heavenly high B. This passage is very demanding for the singer, in “Ineggiamo” the singer has to sing with great emotion over a carpet of sound of a huge orchestra and a huge choir.

Ineggiamo  –   Callas



Voi lo sapete – die grosse Arie der Santuzza

Synopsis: Santuzza feels inside that Turiddu has not forgotten Lola and fears for her relationship.

The oboe begins painfully with the love motif:


But it sounds in a minor key and is immediately driven away by Santuzza’s emotions, which we hear in the violins’ violent sounds.

Santuzza tells of her bitter situation and the jealousy motif appears. She tries to scare away the thoughts of it, and the love motif now glows in major. But the dark thoughts come back and the aria ends with the quotation of the jealousy motif.

We hear the great aria of Santuzza in two versions.

Listen to a first version with Maria Callas in a great interpretation, which Kesting describes as follows: “Maria Callas forms the melodic line as carefully as one of Bellini’s long melodies. And she never looks for an effect arising from affect at the expense of music. She treats ‘Voi lo sapete’ not as a solo aria, but as a narrative and a confession. (Kesting, sbb series Callas, episode 7).

Voi lo sapete –  Callas


Next we will hear Renata Tebaldi, another important interpreter of Santuzza. Renata Tebaldi sings the passage with uncanny urgency. The “voice of an angel” as she was called could portray suffering female figures musically very dramatically.

Voi lo sapete  –  Tebaldi








The two duets of Santuzza and Turiddu

Synopsis: Santuzza sees Turiddu and wants to confront him with the truth that he was not in Francofonte to buy wine for the store, but with her rival Lola. Turiddu is angry and demands that she stops pursueing him by her jealousy.

Turiddu tries without success to wipe away Santuzza’s suspicions. Enervated by her reproaches, he sings the powerful passage “Bada, Santuzza, schiavo non sono di questa vana tua gelosia” (“Beware Santuzza, I am not the slave of your vain jealousy”) several times, accompanied by threatening wind instruments. Santuzza repeats the motif pleadingly accompanied by violins and flutes. Lola bursts into this dramatic scene. In a true “Colpo di scena”, Mascagni suddenly lets the full orchestra die and accompanied by pizzicato strings and a mocking oboe (the sign of Santuzza’s love!), Lola flirts in the middle of this jealousy scene and makes Turiddu embarrassed and Santuzza tremblingly silent. She even has the audacity to ask her lover in an ironic and mocking tone if her husband is there.

Tu qui santuzza (1)  –  Domingo / Cossotto



Synopsis: Santuzza has to realize that Turiddu only has eyes for Lola in the church square. When he wants to enter the church, Santuzza stands in his way. But he doesn’t want to know anything more about her, pushes her away and hurries into the church. Santuzza is deeply moved and promises him revenge.

At the beginning we hear from Santuzza the motive of conviction (“No, no, Turiddu, rimani”), but it soon gives way to the motive of tears. A dramatic dialogue develops and the scene ends with Santuzza’s vow of revenge: “A te la mala Pasqua, spergiuro” (“Your Easter days will end badly, I swear to you”), which sounds at the same time as the revenge motif:


Hear and see this dramatic scene, excellently interpreted in a television recording with Plácido Domingo and Fiorenza Cossotto.

Ah lo vedi…no, no, Turiddu  –  Cossotto/Domingo


Synopsis: The spurned Santuzza rages with jealousy. She now stands there as a disgraced, single woman. When she sees Alfio, who is on his way to church, she opens his eyes. He swears revenge.

Turiddu mi tolse l’onore  –  Callas/Panerai

Mascagni’s famous Intermezzo

The intermezzo takes us back into a Sicilian atmosphere. It is a wonderful piece for string orchestra that has become world famous. With this piece, Mascagni once again sets a resting point before the catastrophe of the last part.


Turiddu meets Alfio

Synopsis: Turiddu invited the community to the wine tavern after the mass.

His song on the joys of wine heralds the tragedy that will be experienced by Alfio and Turiddu, who are disinhibited by alcohol.

Listen to “Quel vino è generoso” in an interpretation by Franco Corelli (1921-2003). Corelli was the leading dramatic tenor in the Italian repertoire in the 1960s and was considered the best looking tenor. His vocal artistry was not without controversy, and some critics accused the self-taught man of lacking the final touch. Subtlety was not his thing, but the radiance of his organ. In addition, he often attracted attention with his rude behavior, which went as far as quarreling with fans of other singers. “Sempre paura” he apologized that he had always had stage fright.

Viva il vino spumeggiante  –  Corelli


A finale with tremendous drama

Synopsis: He offers Alfio a cup. Alfio is furious and rejects it and challenges Turiddu to a duel. Turiddu accepts the duel. He already suspects that he will not survive it and turns to his mother one last time with moving words. He asks her for her blessing and for her care for Santuzza before he hurries to the duel.

Listen to the great Beniamino Gigli with a highly emotional interpretation in a (very much worth seeing) filmed version from 1927. This recording shows the contemporary interpretation, which was much more theatrical and emotional, as we are used to since the end of the Second World War. Incidentally, there is also an excellent contemporary document in the form of a complete recording 13 years later, conducted by the composer himself and also with Beniamino Gigli in the male lead role.

Addio alla madre  –  Gigli


Synopsis: The two leave the tavern. After a dramatic silence one hears the cry of a woman: Turiddu has been killed.

The last bars begin with the dramatic tremolo of the violins. Once again the love motif lights up, but after the woman’s scream, the end belongs to the revenge motif, which resounds broadly and expansively once more in the orchestra.

Turiddu?! Che vuoi dire?



Recording recommendation


EMI with Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano conducted by Tullio Serafin and the Choir and Orchestra of La Scala Milan (1953).

An alternative is the recording with Plácido Domingo under the direction of Georges Prêtre (Philipps).



Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide on CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA by Pietro Mascagni.




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