Operas by Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini
Opera in one act
Music by Pietro Mascagni
Libretto by Guido Menasci and Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti,
after the short story and play by Giovanni Verga
First performed at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on May 17, 1890
In 1888 an Italian publishing house offered a prize for the best one-act opera. There were seventy-three entries, and Cavalleria, which Mascagni had composed in eight days, won. It was his first opera to be produced. He was only twenty-one, and although he composed fourteen more, he never improved on his first success.
The opera is a burst of passion. It runs just over an hour and yet unfolds its story without hurry or confusion. There is even time for Mascagni, in order to build color and atmosphere, to insert four choruses and the famous intermezzo. The libretto, based on a short story is extremely terse, and so is Mascagni‘s music. His arias go right to the point. He does not linger on the choruses.
It consists of music from the opera except for the serenade, which Turiddu sings behind the closed curtains. It is to Lola, Alfio’s wife, and heralds the tragedy.
The action takes place in a Sicilian village on Easter morning about 1880.
The village square. On one side is the church, on the other Mamma Lucia’s wineshop and home. The day is just beginning.
The villagers sing of spring, the season of love.
Santuzza asks Mamma Lucia: “Dov’ Turiddu” (where is Turiddu)? Mamma Lucia nervously claims that she doesn’t know. I don‘t want any trouble, she insists. Finally she states that Turiddu has gone to a neighboring town to buy wine. Santuzza denies it. He has been seen in the village. Lucia is startled. She asks Santuzza into her house, but Santuzza refuses: “Sono scomunicata” (I am excommunicated [and she must not enter by local moral law]). Mamma Lucia suspects the reason.
At this moment Alfio drives in. Alfio is a carter. His aria describes his life, the horse, the harness bells and home after hard work. The villagers envy him his freedom and travel.
Alfio asks Mamma Lucia for a special wine. She says that Turiddu has gone to buy more at the neighboring town.
Not so, says Alfio, for he just saw Turiddu by his own house. Alfio goes off leaving Mamma Lucia upset.
The villagers sing an Easter hymn, the refrain of which is “Il Signor non morto” (the Lord is not dead). “Alleluia.”
Mamma Lucia questions Santuzza about Turiddu, and Santuzza reminds her, “Voi lo sapete” (you know it).
Turiddu and Lola were once engaged, but when he returned from the army, Lola was married and he turned to Santuzza.
Passionately she bursts out, “L’amai” (I love him). Then Lola lured him back, leaving Santuzza without love or honor; “Io piango” (I weep). Mamma Lucia is horrified and would rather not listen. In despair Santuzza wails, “Io son dannata” (I am damned). She begs Mamma to pray for her at the service.
Turiddu asks Santuzza if she isn’t going to church. She ignores the question and says that she has something to tell him. She tries to warn him that Alfio will get suspicious, but her warning strikes him as a jealous tirade, and he accuses her of spying on him. “Lasciami” (leave me), he spurns her. She insists that he loves Lola: “L’ami” (you love her). He denies it.
Coldly he tells her to pull herself together. With anguish she pleads that she can’t help herself: she loves him. They stop abruptly as they hear Lola in the distance.
Lola sings a light, suggestive aria. She stops when she sees them. She asks after Alfio and, when she discovers that he’s not around, she asks Turiddu to go to church with her. Turiddu is confused and nervous. Santuzza begs him to stay. Lola enters the church alone with an amused shrug.
Angrily Turiddu turns on Santuzza: “Va” (go). She begs him to stay: “Rimani, rimani ancora” (stay, stay yet). He accuses her again of spying on him – even at the church door. Furious now, she threatens him: “Bada” (enough). He throws her to the ground, and she curses him. He runs into the church after Lola.
Alfio enters looking for Lola to go to church. Violently Santuzza tells him that Lola has gone in with Turriddu and that the two have been deceiving him. Alfio at first is incredulous but then believes her and swears vengeance on the lovers.
The service is over and the villagers sing of going home – “A casa” (to home).
Turiddu starts a drinking song – Brindisi – and the villagers join him. It is Easter, a holiday.
Turiddu offers Alfio a glass. Alfio refuses because, as he says loudly, it might be poisoned. The women hurry Lola away. The challenge is implicit. Alfio merely asks if Turiddu is ready – “or ora” (now)? – and Turiddu replies instantly, “or ora,” and as Sicilian custom requires, bites Alfio on the right ear – confirming his readiness for a fight.
Regretfully he wonders for a moment what will happen to Santuzza. Then he forgets her and snarls at Alfio, who goes off coldly remarking that he is waiting.
Filled with dark premonitions, Turiddu calls Mamma Lucia. The wine, he says is a little strong. He is going out for a walk. But if he doesn‘t return, she must be a mother to Santuzza, whom he promised to marry.
Lucia can’t understand why he speaks so strangely. Again he blames the wine. He asks for a kiss – “un bacio, un altro bacio” (a kiss, another kiss). She must look after Santuzza, he insists. He runs off calling “addio” (farewell).
Lucia begins to suspect the truth. Santuzza rushes in. Offstage a woman screams that Turiddu has been killed.
Alfio has taken his revenge for his honor.
(George Martin, The Opera Companion)