“Cavalleria Rusticana,” or “Rustic Chivalry,” is an opera in one act with words by Targioni-Tozzetti and Menasci, after the tale of the Sicilian novelist, Verga, and with music by Pietro Mascagni. It was performed at the Teatro Costanzi, in Rome, May 20, 1890, having been written in competition for the prize offered by a music publisher for the best three one-act operas. To ” Cavalleria Rusticana ” was awarded the first prize. It is said to have been written in a week, and virtually in a day it lifted its young composer from obscurity to worldwide fame.
Santuzza, a village girl, betrayed by Turiddu. Lola, wife of Alfio and mistress of Turiddu. Turiddu, a young soldier, returned from the wars. Alfio, a village carter. Lucia, mother of Turiddu, keeper of the tavern.
The scene is laid in a Sicilian village, the curtain rising on a public square, one side of which is occupied by a church decked for Easter. the other by Mother Lucia’s inn. Turiddu, her son, has but recently returned from military service. Before enlisting he was engaged to Lola but he finds her not faithful and true,” she having married Alfio, the well-to-do carter. Turiddu tries to be philosophic and speedily woos and wins, but alas, not honorably, the pretty peasant girl, Santuzza, who loves him as ardently as he has loved the fickle Lola. The thought that Turiddu can console himself so easily and can mend the heart she has fancied fatally shattered, does not please Lola. Her jealousy is aroused and she exerts all her coquetry to regain his attentions. The task is not difficult, for Turiddu already is beginning to tire of the too-loving Santuzza.
Before the curtain rises, we hear the song of Turiddu in praise of Lola, supposedly sung as a morning greeting before her house. Santuzza goes to Lucia’s door to ask the whereabouts of Turiddu. The mother brusquely tells her she does not know and bids her be off. However, in reply to Santuzza tearful pleading she informs her that her son has gone to the neighboring village, Francoforte, for wine. Santuzza is doubtful, for she has had a glimpse of him the night before. Lucia, who begins to feel pity for the girl, asks her to come in but she sobs out that she is an outcast, having been excommunicated for her sin. Now Lola’s husband, Alfio, runs gaily upon the scene boasting of his happiness and good fortune in which Lola is an important factor. Much to Lucia’s astonishment, he too refers to having seen Turiddu lingering near his house that morning. The people are celebrating Easter and the music of the mass issues from the church, its sacred strains being echoed by the people in the square. When silence comes again, the desperate Santuzza tells Lucia her sad story and of Turiddu infatuation for Lola. Ashamed and depressed, Lucia goes into the church to pray. Just then Turiddu arrives and is greatly annoyed to encounter Santuzza. With a supercilious air he inquires why she is not at church on Easter. Quietly she asks him where he has been staying and he lies, saying at Francoforte. She returns that she knows this to be false, that he has been at Lola’s. He accuses her of spying upon him, cursing her jealousy and expressing his distaste and disdain for her. While this is going on, Lola comes flaunting by. She mocks Santuzza, asking her whether she is going to mass. Santuzza answers that only those who are without sin can go there. Lola does not take this. to herself but virtuously refers to her own freedom to go where she pleases. Santuzza by her importunity prevents Turiddu from going into the church with Lola, which makes him all the more furious. When Santuzza pleads with him to be just to her, he forgets himself and throws her down in rage. Then he hastens into the church after the woman who has infatuated him.
” Your Easter shall be bitter; that I swear,” cries Santuzza wildly.
Alfio now returns to attend service and Santuzza in a frenzy of grief, reveals to him the perfidy of his wife and her lover. Swearing to obtain vengeance, Alfio rushes away, followed by the unhappy girl. At last the services are at an end and the crowd issues from the church. Turiddu and Lola steal a word before they separate at the doors. Many of the people flock to the tavern for wine at Turiddu’s invitation. Finally Alfio comes. He refuses to accept of Turiddu’s hospitality which means that he knows his injury at the other’s hands. At this ominous sign and the fury displayed by the two men, the women run away frightened. Turiddu throws away the wine Alfio has just refused and asks him what else he has to say. Alfio answers grimly that all has been said. At this Turiddu bites Alfio’s ear, which is the Sicilian form of challenge. However, before going to meet his adversary behind the garden, the repentant Turiddu embraces his mother and commends Santuzza to her care in case he is killed, confessing that he should have made her his wife. He leaves and Santuzza and Lucia cling to each other in terrible suspense. The women rush in crying that Alfio has slain Turiddu.
Mascagni, who at the time of the composition of ” Cavalleria Rusticana,” was only twenty-seven years of age, had the distinction of founding with his work a new school of opera, the ” verissimo ” school, with flesh and blood characters whose deeds follow the logic of passionate human nature. He benefited by the reaction from the excessive craze for Wagner and his legendary operas, the people receiving the new realism with delight. The opera is extremely brief but it runs the gamut of the passions, is sincere and fresh, dramatic and original, while its local coloring is true and vivid. Few operas have met with such instant and lavish favor.
Preeminent in popularity among the numbers is the famous intermezzo for the orchestra which has place between the duet for Alfio and Santuzza and the exit from the church service. Other conspicuous numbers are Turiddu’s song, heard behind the curtain during the prelude, “O Lola c’hai di latti la cammisa ” (” O Lola, fair as flow’rs in beauty smiling”); Alfio’s whip song with chorus, “Il cavallo scalpita; ” the Easter chorus in the church and square ” Regina Coeli ” (” Queen of Heaven”), Santuzza’s romanza, “Voi lo sapete” (” Now shall you know “) ; the impassioned duets for Santuzza and Turiddu and for Santuzza and Alfio; Turiddu’s drinking-song. “Viva il vino ” (” Hail the ruby wine”) and his farewell to his mother.