7 Interesting Fun Facts About Cavalleria Rusticana, the Opera by Pietro Mascagni

Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) is a classical opera in the verismo style of Italian opera. Among popular operas, Cavalleria Rusticana is the only one that contains traditional Easter Hymns. Many an opera concert will include famous opera songs from this favourite opera.

Today, many opera lovers listen to opera in the comfort of their homes. You can listen to opera online free below as an orchestra, a choir, an opera singer and a conductor perform.

The two shorts – Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana opera are part of the standard classical opera repertoire. Discover them!

Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni
Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni


Read to Discover the Cavalleria Rusticana Opera

  1. What is the Story in the Opera Cavalleria Rusticana?
  2. Why is there an «Easter Hymn» in Cavalleria Rusticana?
  3. Who Performed the First Santuzza?
  4. What Are the Thoughts of An Opera Conductor When Conducting Mascagni?
  5. What Chain of Events Did Giovanni Verga’s Short Story Influence?
  6. How is the Verismo Style of Italian Opera Related to European History?
  7. Why are Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci Often Performed Together?

A Short Synopsis of the Cavalleria Rusticana Story

A short, three-sentence synopsis of the opera Cavalleria Rusticana by the Italian composer Pietro Mascagni (1863 – 1945) is the following:

In late nineteenth century Sicily (present day Southern Italy), a young man returns from serving in the army to discover that his former love has married the local rich merchant. In an attempt to make her jealous. The young man courts another young village girl, who is in love with him. Things turn out bad when the current love finds out that her lover is continuing to visit his now-married old love – and, tells all to the husband.

Cavalleria Rusticana Story Synopsis
Cavalleria Rusticana Story Synopsis


The Easter Hymn by Mascagni is a Unique Opera Addition

The opera Cavalleria Rusticana is the only opera in the classical opera repertoire that takes place at Easter time. The story begins on Easter morning and continues throughout Easter Day.

The Lviv House production was staged to recreate the village and town life of southern Italy. The Easter Hymn scene borrows on the tradition of street processions prevalent in this part of Italy.

Easter Hymn in Cavalleria Rusticana
Easter Hymn in Cavalleria Rusticana


Gemma Bellincioni – the First Santuzza

The premiere of the opera Cavalleria Rusticana took place on May 17, 1890 at the Constanzi Theatre in Rome, the capital of the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946).

Gemma Bellincioni (1864-1950) performed the first Santuzza and Roberto Stagno (1840-1897) performed the first Turridu. Interesting to note, that although Bellincioni and Stano never married they had a daughter – Bianca Bellincioni Stagno (1888-1980).

Gemma Bellincioni and Roberto Stagno
Gemma Bellincioni and Roberto Stagno


Performing Cavalleria Rusticana from an Opera Conductor's Point of View

Opera conductors tend to have their personal likes and dislikes when it comes to the operas they conduct. Certainly, Myron Yusypovych is no different!

For many opera buffs, Pietro Mascagni is not as well known as the titans of opera, such as, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini or the genius Mozart, Rossini….

And yet, the world opera treasury is richer for the presence of this exquisite pearl called Cavalleria Rusticana.

Indeed! Cavalleria Rusticana is a bright example, of the master reaching the heights of professionalism and combining them with true inspiration.

Continue reading Opera MusicNotes by Myron Yusypovych….


From Verga's Short Story to Mascagni’s Opera to Coppola’s Film

Giovanni Verga (1840 – 1922) was an Italian writer who, in the opera world, is best known for his short-story Cavalleria Rusticana written in 1880. Four years later, in 1884, Verga rewrote the short story into a one-act play with the same title. Six years later, in 1890, the Italian opera composer Pietro Mascagni (1863 – 1945) created a one-act opera based on the original short story and play. One hundred years later, in 1990, Francis Coppola (born: 1939), an American film director, producer and screenwriter of Italian immigrant ancestry, incorporated Verga’s plot and Mascagni’s music into his film The Godfather Part III.

In Giovanni Verga’s original short story, Turiddu, a young Sicilian tries to rekindle an old flame’s interest by courting another woman. Lola, his former love, is now married to Alfio, a prosperous local merchant. Santuzza, Turiddu’s temporary love, discovers his perfidy and tells-all to Alfio, Lola’s husband. In the time-honoured traditions of Sicilian “honour” and “revenge”, Alfio and Turiddu fight. Turiddu is killed.

In Verga’s short one-act drama, the plot remains the same. However, in the drama, Verga gives more prominence to Santuzza and her relationship with Turiddu. He explores the character of a woman caught between her love for a man and the social and religious norms of the culture in which she lives.

In Mascagni’s opera, Verga’s Cavalleria Rusticana plot-line, once again, remains unchanged. Instead, the composer and librettists incorporate additional aspects of Italian religious culture – the attendance at Mass, the rosary, confession and the celebration of Easter Sunday. Ironically, as with Verga, Cavalleria Rusticana is considered to be Marsacagni’s best opera.

Cavalleria Rusticana: Verga > Mascagni > Coppola
Cavalleria Rusticana: Verga > Mascagni > Coppola

Finally, in Coppola’s film, Verga’s theme of murderous honour is expanded into the Italian Mafia’s concept of vendetta and visually superimposed onto Mascagni’s opera music. In the film, the plot line becomes a story within a story. While the film’s main character, Michael Corleone watches his son’s operatic debut as Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, we see as one by one, the perceived and real enemies of the Corelone family are murdered (A new window will open).


The Verismo Style in Italian Theatre and Opera

Such famous Italian operas as Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are labelled as verismo. In attempting to explain the style, many have focused on the musical aspects of the works, even contrasting verismo with bel canto. However, ironically for opera, it is not the musical elements that are central in verismo, but the topic chosen for the opera’s libretto.

Late nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe was undergoing a tremendous social-revolution.

The power and influence of European monarchies and titled elites, although very much present, was becoming more limited. The idea, that daily lives should be regulated by elected parliaments based on a multitude of points-of-view rather than on the whims of a hereditary elite, was becoming more widely promoted and accepted. Within idea, literary and artistic circles, freedom of expression and issues concerning the living conditions of the majority were being widely discussed.

At this time, wider access to education became the norm in Europe. At the end of the 19thC, most European states implemented some type of public education system where the basic elements of reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic were taught.

Italian Verismo at Lviv Opera
Italian Verismo at Lviv Opera

Across Europe, the system of infrastructure was enhance and expanded. As a result, transportation (travel over roads and railway lines) and communication (postal services) became more accessible and were no longer the exclusive prerogative of the moneyed elite.

Out of this was born a rejection of romantic art with its portrayal of royalty, mythical and magical creatures in opulent, exotic or ancient settings. Instead, the daily lives of people, peasants or the emerging middle class, began to be portrayed in literature, visual and dramatic art (for example – the opera Carmen).

In Italy, where a major art form was opera, this transformation in ideology was portrayed in opera and became known as verismo.


Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are Often Performed Together

Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni (1863 – 1945) premiered in the Teatro Costanzi, currently known as the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, on May 17, 1890. Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857 – 1919) was composed 2 years later and premiered in the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan, on May 21, 1892.

In the jargon of the opera world, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are often referred to as operatic twins or Cav and Pav. Recently several opera stage directors (most notably Damiano Michelietto at the Royal Opera in London UK) have staged these two works as if they were a single opera, with the main characters from each of the operas appearing as supernumeraries in the other.

Cav and Pag
Cav and Pag

Both Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci deal with marital fidelity (or, lack of it) in a 1880s-1890s Italian, Roman Catholic dominated culture. Both operas explore the male’s right in defending that which he considers to be his. Notwithstanding the strong religious overtones which reject human killing, both operas affirm this society’s acceptance of murder, when it is done to uphold the male’s honour.

Although sharing many similarities, there are differences in location and season between Cav and Pav. Cavalleria Rusticana takes place on the island of Sicily, in Southern Italy, in the spring, on Easter Sunday. Pagliacci takes place in Calabria, on mainland South-Western Italy, in the summer, on the Feast of the Assumption.

Cavalleria Rusticana by Italian composers Pietro Mascagni and Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo are both famous short staples in the opera classical music world.

Text by Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych


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