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Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) is an opera in one act by Pietro Mascagni to an Italian libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, adapted from a play written by Giovanni Verga based on his short story. Considered one of the classic verismo operas, it premiered on May 17, 1890 at the Teatro Costanzi in Romemarker. Since 1893, it has often been performed in a so-called Cav/Pag double-bill with Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo.

Composition history

In July 1888 the Milanese music publisher Edoardo Sonzogno announced a competition open to all young Italian composers who had not yet had an opera performed on stage. They were invited to submit a one-act opera, of which the three best (selected by a jury of five prominent Italian critics and composers) would be staged in Rome at Sonzogno's expense.
Gemma Bellincioni as Santuzza, and her husband, Roberto Stagno, as Turiddu, in the 1890 premiere of Cavalleria rusticana.
Mascagni heard about the competition only two months before the closing date and asked his friend Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti, a poet and professor of literature in the Italian Royal Naval Academy in Livorno, to provide a libretto. Targioni-Tozzetti chose Cavalleria rusticana, a popular short story (and play) by Giovanni Verga as the basis for the opera. He and his colleague Guido Menasci set about composing the libretto, sending it to Mascagni in fragments, sometimes only a few verses at a time on the back of a postcard. The opera was finally submitted on the last day for which entries would be accepted. In all, 73 operas were submitted, and on March 5, 1890, the judges selected the final three: Niccola Spinelli's Labilia, Vincenzo Ferroni's Rudello, and Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana.

There have been two other operas based on Verga's story. The first, Mala Pasqua by Stanislao Gastaldon, had been entered in the same competition with Mascagni's. However, Gataldon withdrew it when he received an opportunity to have it performed at the Teatro Costanzi. It premiered there on 9 April 1890. In the 1907 Sonzogno competition, Domenico Monleone submitted an opera based on the story, and likewise called Cavalleria rusticana. The opera was not successful in the competition but premiered later that year in Amsterdam and went on to a successful tour throughout Europe, ending in Turin. Sonzogno, wishing to protect the lucrative property which Mascagni's version had become, took legal action and successfully had Monleone's opera banned from performance in Italy. Monleone changed the opera ‘beyond recognition’ setting the music to a new libretto. In this form it was presented as La giostra dei falchi in 1914. (Ref.Ibid)

Performance history

Pietro Mascagni, the composer of Cavalleria rusticana, flanked by his librettists, Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci.

Although Pinotta, which only premiered in 1932, was written earlier,Cavalleria rusticana was the first opera by Mascagni that was a success and it remains the best known of his 16 operas. (Apart from Cavalleria rusticana, only Iris and L'amico Fritz have remained in the standard repertory with Isabeau and Il Piccolo Marat on the fringes of the Italian repertoire.)

Its success has been phenomenal from its first performance in the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on May 17, 1890 until the present day. At the time of Mascagni's death in 1945, the opera had been performed more than fourteen thousand times in Italy alone.

The first performance of Cavalleria rusticana caused a sensation, with Mascagni taking 40 curtain calls on the opening night, and winning the First Prize. That same year, following its sold-out run of performances at the Teatro Costanzi, the opera was produced throughout Italy and in Berlin. It received its London premiere at the Shaftesbury Theatre on October 19, 1891 and its Covent Gardenmarker premiere on May 16, 1892.

American producers vied with each other (sometimes through the courts) to be the first to present the opera in that country. Cavalleria rusticana finally had its American premiere in Philadelphia at the Grand Opera House on September 9, 1891, followed by Chicago on September 30, 1891. The opera premiered in New York on October 1, 1891 with two rival performances on the same day, an afternoon performance at the Casino, directed by Rudolph Aronson and an evening performance at the Lenox Lyceum directed by Oscar Hammerstein.

The opera received its first performance at the Metropolitan Opera on December 30, 1891 in a double bill with a fragment of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice and has since received 652 performances there, the most recent of which was on April 10, 2009 with José Cura as Turiddu and Ildikó Komlósi as Santuzza.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 17 May 1890
(Conductor: - )
Santuzza, a peasant girl soprano Gemma Bellincioni
Turiddu, a young villager recently returned from the army tenor Roberto Stagno
Lucia, his mother contralto Federica Casali
Alfio, the village teamster baritone Guadenzio Salassa
Lola, his wife mezzo-soprano Annetta Guli


[[Image:Cavalleria Rusticana Illustration Circa 1880.jpg|thumb|240px|right|Illustration from an early edition of GiovanniVerga's short story Cavalleria rusticana on which the opera is based.]]

Time: Easter morning
Place: A Sicilian village

Turiddu, a young villager, had returned from military service to find that while he was gone, his fiancée, Lola, had married Alfio, the prosperous village teamster. In revenge, Turiddu seduced Santuzza, a young woman in the village. As the opera begins, Lola, overcome by her jealousy of Santuzza, has begun an adulterous affair with Turiddu.

Offstage, Turiddu is heard singing The Siciliana - "O Lola, lovely as the spring’s bright blooms". The curtain rises on the main square of the village. To one side is the church; to the other is Lucia's wine shop and the house where she lives with her son, Turiddu. The villagers move about the square, singing of the beautiful spring day (Gli aranci olezzano sui verdi margini - "The air is sweet with orange blossoms") and a hymn to the Blessed Virgin. Some villagers enter the church, others wander off still singing.

Santuzza, having slept with Turiddu and suspecting that he has betrayed her with Lola, is distraught and approaches Lucia as she comes out of her house. Santuzza asks for Turiddu, and Lucia replies that he has gone to another town to fetch some wine. Santuzza tells her that he was seen during the night in the village. Lucia asks her inside to talk, but just at that moment Alfio arrives on his wagon accompanied by the villagers. He praises the joys of a teamster's life and the beauty of his bride. Alfio asks Lucia for some of her fine old wine. She tells him it has run out and Turiddu has gone away to buy more. Alfio replies that he had seen Turiddu early that morning near his cottage. Lucia starts to express surprise, but Santuzza stops her.

Alfio leaves. The choir inside the church is heard singing the Regina Coeli. Outside, the villagers sing an Easter Hymn, joined by Santuzza. The villagers enter the church, while Santuzza and Lucia remain outside. Lucia asks Santuzza why she signalled her to remain silent when Alfio said that he had seen Turiddu that morning. Santuzza exclaims, Voi lo sapete - "Now you shall know", and tells Lucia the story of her seduction by Turiddu and his affair with Lola. Lucia pities Santuzza, who is considered by the villagers to be excommunicated because of her seduction. Santuzza cannot enter the church, but begs Lucia to go inside and pray for her.

Turiddu arrives. Santuzza upbraids him for pretending to have gone away, when he was actually seeing Lola. Lola enters the square singing. She mocks Santuzza and goes inside the church. Turiddu turns to follow Lola, but Santuzza begs him to stay. Turiddu pushes her away. She clings to him. He loosens her hands, throws her to the ground, and enters the church. Alfio arrives looking for Lola. Santuzza tells him that his wife has betrayed him with Turiddu.

The square is empty as the orchestra plays the Intermezzo.

The villagers come out of the church. Turiddu is in high spirits because he is with Lola and Santuzza appears to have gone. He invites his friends to his mother’s wine shop where he sings a drinking song, Viva, il vino spumeggiante - "Hail the flowing wine!". Alfio joins them. Turiddu offers him wine, but he refuses it. The women leave, taking Lola with them. In a brief exchange of words, Alfio challenges Turiddu to a duel. Following Sicilian custom, the two men embrace, and Turiddu, in a token of acceptance, bites Alfio’s ear, drawing blood which signifies a fight to the death. Alfio leaves and Turiddu calls Lucia back. He tells her that he is going outside to get some air and asks that she be a kindly mother to Santuzza if he should not return: Un bacio, mamma! Un altro bacio! — Addio! - "One kiss, my mother! One more kiss! - Farewell!".

Turiddu rushes out. Lucia, weeping, wanders aimlessly around outside her house. Santuzza approaches and throws her arms around her. The villagers start to crowd around. Voices are heard in the distance and a woman cries, "They have murdered Turiddu!" Santuzza faints and Lucia collapses in the arms of the women villagers.


Mascagni calls for a standard-sized orchestra consisting of 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (triangle, cymbals, bass drum, side drum, tamtam, tubular bells), harp, organ and strings.


There have been more than 60 full-length recordings of Cavalleria rusticana published since it was first recorded in Germany in 1909. Amongst some of the more well-known studio recordings are:

Year Cast
(Santuzza, Turiddu, Alfio, Lucia)
Opera House and Orchestra
1940 Lina Bruna Rasa,
Beniamino Gigli,
Gino Bechi
Giulietta Simionato

Pietro Mascagni,
Teatro alla Scalamarker Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Naxos CD
Cat: 8.110714-15
1953 Zinka Milanov,
Jussi Björling,
Robert Merrill
Margaret Roggero

Renato Cellini
RCA Victor Orchestra
Audio CD: RCA
Cat: CD 6510-2-RG
1953 Maria Callas,
Giuseppe Di Stefano,
Rolando Panerai,
Ebe Ticozzi

Tullio Serafin
Teatro alla Scalamarker Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: EMI CD
Cat: 7243 5 56287 2 5
1957 Renata Tebaldi,
Jussi Bjorling.

Ettore Bastianini,
Rina Corsi

Alberto Erede
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Audio CD: Decca CD
Cat: 458 2242
1962 Victoria de Los Angeles,
Franco Corelli,
Mario Sereni,
Corinna Vozza

Gabriele Santini
Orchestra dell'Opera di Roma
Audio CD: EMI CD
Cat: 72438-19968-2-9
1965 Fiorenza Cossotto,
Carlo Bergonzi,
Giangiacomo Guelfi,
Maria Gracia Allegri

Herbert von Karajan
Teatro alla Scalamarker Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: CD 419 257-2
1976 Julia Varady,
Luciano Pavarotti,
Piero Capuccilli,
Ida Bormida

Gianandrea Gavazzeni
London Voices, National Philharmonic Orchestra
Audio CD: Decca Classics
Cat: 00289 414 5902
1977 Renata Scotto,
Placido Domingo,
Pablo Elvira,
Isola Jones

James Levine
National Philharmonic Orchestra
Audio CD: RCA Victor
Cat: RCA RD 83091
1979 Montserrat Caballé,
José Carreras,
Matteo Manuguerra,
Astrid Varnay

Riccardo Muti
Philharmonia Orchestra
Audio CD: EMI CD
Cat: EMI CMS 7 63650 2
1989 Agnes Baltsa,
Plácido Domingo,
Juan Pons,
Vera Baniewicz

Giuseppe Sinopoli
Philharmonia Orchestra
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: CD 429 568-2

Film versions

Poster for the 1953 film version of Cavalleria Rusticana.
Apart from video recordings of live performances, there have been several cinematic versions of Cavalleria rusticana, the most notable of which are:

  • The 1916 silent film accompanied by Mascagni's score, directed by Ugo Falena, with Gemma Bellincioni, who had created the role of Santuzza in the opera's world premiere.

  • The 1953 film directed by Carmine Gallone, using actors miming to the voices of opera singers, with a young Anthony Quinn as Alfio miming to the voice of Tito Gobbi. (Released in the US with the title Fatal Desire)

The opera's symphonic Intermezzo has figured in the sound track of several films, most notably in the opening of Raging Bull and in The Godfather Part III which featured a performance of the opera as a key part of the film's climax.




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