Cavalleria rusticana 101 – Characters and Plot
By: Suzanne Whitney & Betsy Schwarm
As the American composer Paul Moravec says, “opera is about three things: love, death, and power,” and that could not be more true for Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana. This one-act opera may only be seventy-five minutes, but the story packs in family drama, infidelity, a duel, and even a couple of excellent drinking songs.
This masterpiece zooms in on the intricacies of small-town life in nineteenth-century Sicily. Mascagni masterfully layers the beauty of the pastoral town on Easter morning with the strict behavoral codes of honor to which its inhabitants are bound. Whether facing an unfaithful spouse or a pregnancy outside of marriage, “cavalleria rusticana” or “rustic chivalry” reigns supreme. Learn more about the creators, characters, and plot of this piece below!
Composer – Pietro Mascagni (December 1863 – August 1945)
Librettists – Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti (March 1863 – May 1934) and Guido Menasci (March 1867 – December 1925)
Source Material – Cavalleria rusticana, a play written by Giovanni Verga (September 1840 – January 1922)
Santuzza (mezzo-soprano) – A Sicilian peasant girl. Played by Catherine Martin, who returns to Opera Colorado after her 2015 company debut as Amneris in Aïda.
Turiddu (tenor) – A young Sicilian soldier on leave. Played by Roberto De Biasio, who is making his Opera Colorado debut.
Mamma Lucia (mezzo-soprano) – tavern keeper, and mother of Turiddu. Played by Catherine Cook, who returns to Opera Colorado after starring in one of our 2021 digital offerings April in Paris, and as Ježibaba in Rusalka in 2011.
Lola (mezzo-soprano) – Turiddu’s former lover and the wife of Alfio. Played by Kira Dills-DeSurra, well known to Opera Colorado audiences as a former Opera Colorado Artist in Residence.
Alfio (baritone) – Lola’s husband. Played by Malcolm MacKenzie, who returns to Opera Colorado after playing Germont in La traviata in 2018.
Easter morning in Sicily—late 19th century
The opera begins with a serenade from Turiddu, singing about his former lover, Lola. While Turiddu was off at war, Lola chose to marry another, Alfio. Upon his return, Turiddu had a brief love affair with Santuzza, another girl from the village. This Easter morning, Santuzza enters looking for Turiddu at his mother Lucia’s tavern. Mamma Lucia invites her in, but Santuzza balks at entering as she has been excommunicated for her affair and ensuing pregnancy. He is not here, Lucia says, though Santuzza does not believe her. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Alfio and his rowdy friends. Alfio regales the crowd with an account of the charms of his wife, Lola.
A religious procession enters the church across the square. Despite the sacred backdrop, Santuzza confides in Mamma Lucia that Turiddu has taken up with Lola again. Mamma Lucia is upset by the conversation and departs for mass. Turiddu returns to the town square to find Santuzza alone. She confronts Turiddu about his romantic indiscretions, which he denies, declaring her accusations to be jealous fantasies. In the midst of this lover’s quarrel, Lola passes on her way to church. Despite Santuzza’s pleading, Turiddu follows Lola. Santuzza curses him: “A te la mala Pasqua!” (An evil Easter upon you). Then, she seeks revenge by telling Alfio about Lola and Turiddu’s affair. In the face of Alfio’s rage, Santuzza immediately regrets speaking but cannot take back the words. The die has been cast.
After mass, Turiddu is in Mamma Lucia’s tavern, encouraging the gathered villagers to join him in a drinking song. Alfio arrives and confronts Turiddu, challenging him to a duel. Turiddu accepts. Before departing for the contest, he asks his mother to look after Santuzza if need be. Mamma Lucia and Santuzza await word of the result of the duel. They hear distant cries, and the news arrives—Turiddu has been slain.
Synopsis © Betsy Schwarm, author of the Classical Music Insights series.
If you made it through this whole post, you deserve to enjoy some of the music from this masterpiece! Tickets to Opera Colorado’s one-night-only concert-style performance of Cavalleria rusticana are on sale now! Tickets start at just $39>>
What is your favorite moment in Cavalleria rusticana? Is there anything you are dying to know about the opera or our production? Let us know in the comments below!