Opera in one act.
Libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci based on the short story and subsequent play Cavalleria Rusticana by Giovanni Verga 1880).
First performed in the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 17 May 1890
The setting is the main square of a small village in Sicily. At the back of the square on the right there is a church, and on the left there is the house of Mamma Lucia, a tavern. It is early morning on Easter Day.
The opera begins with a Prelude: this is a beautiful little précis of the opera and includes a foretaste of the throbbing cry of despair from Santuzza as she says that she still loves Turiddu despite his betrayal of her, as well as the melody of their duet and the theme of her despair. It is interrupted by Turiddu himself serenading Lola in a suggestive Siciliana. As the people of the village cross the square towards the church, the women sing of the welcome spring weather and the men sing admiringly of the hard work which the women do.
A village girl, Santuzza, approaches Mamma Lucia’s house just as the old lady comes out. Santuzza asks her where her son, Turiddu, is and after being rather brusque with her, Lucia replies that he has gone to Francofonte to collect some wine. Santuzza responds that this cannot be true, because Turiddu was spotted in the village late the previous night. Lucia, wanting to know more, invites Santuzza in, but the girl cannot accept – she has been excommunicated (some versions of the story say that she is pregnant, but there is nothing in the text to suggest this).
Alfio, the village carter, enters the square and sings a jolly song about his carefree life and his beautiful young and loyal wife Lola. Lucia praises his cheerfulness, and in response to his request for some wine, tells him that Turiddu has gone to collect fresh supplies. Alfio too says that this cannot be the case, because he saw Turiddu himself earlier in the morning still in the village, up near Alfio’s own house. Lucia is now very disturbed, and as Santuzza tells her to hush, the villagers inside and outside the church begin to sing: everyone kneels to sing the Easter Hymn, and then the village folk all move on into the church. Alone now in the square, Lucia asks Santuzza why she hushed her up, and Santuzza explains. Turiddu had been in love with Lola before he went off to serve as a soldier; when he returned, he found that she had grown tired of waiting for him and had married Alfio. Turiddu turned to Santuzza, and together they found true happiness together and have made love – but Lola was jealous of their love and enticed Turiddu away. His betrayal has dishonoured Santuzza, who is now banned from the church (a self-exile imposed because of her shame).
Lucia is distressed at this story and Santuzza asks her to go to the church and pray for her, because when she sees Turiddu, she is going to try again to win him back. Lucia goes into the church and Turiddu now arrives. As Santuzza tries to talk with him, he brushes her off, and when he says that he has been to Francofonte she accuses him of lying – he was seen near Lola’s house, by Alfio. Turiddu turns on Santuzza and asks her if she really wants Alfio to kill him. Santuzza protests and tells Turiddu that despite his treatment of her she still loves him.
Lola’s voice is now heard, singing a flirty song: she comes into the square and Turiddu is embarrassed. She taunts him, and then asks Santuzza whether she is going to Mass. Santuzza replies pointedly that it is Easter day and that the Lord sees everything, and that only those without sin can attend Mass. Lola sweeps off and Turiddu is about to follow her when Santuzza turns on him, furious, and demands to know whether he will return to her or abandon her for ever. Turiddu replies that she should leave him alone, and when Santuzza warns him darkly to take care, he pushes her to the ground and rushes after Lola into the church. Alfio now arrives and Santuzza tells him that Lola and Turiddu are lovers. Alfio swears that they will not get away with it and that he will have blood in vengeance for the betrayal.
The Mass is ended and to the music of the heart-breakingly beautiful intermezzo, the villagers begin to come out of the church and comment about going home. Lucia crosses the square and goes into her own house. Lola tells Turiddu that she too is going home because she has not seen Alfio yet – Turiddu replies that Alfio will be along soon enough and he invites the villagers to stay for a glass of wine and sings a drinking song to encourage them. As everyone is relaxing, Alfio arrives: Turiddu offers him a glass but Alfio refuses, saying that it would turn into poison in his breast. Turiddu throws the wine onto the ground. Lola feels the tension, but the villagers hustle her away leaving Turiddu and Alfio alone.
Both men realise what must be done: they embrace in the traditional manner – the peasant chivalry of the title – and Turiddu bites Alfio’s right ear as the ritual demands. ‘c’intenderemo bene, a quell che pare’ responds Alfio, ‘we both know well what must be done’. Turiddu acknowledges his guilt and admits that he would be prepared to be killed like a dog, but says that it is Santuzza’s loyalty to him that is driving him to kill Alfio.
‘Just as you wish’, Alfio responds coldly, and says that he will be waiting beyond the garden. He leaves, and Lucia comes out. Turiddu tells his mother that he has drunk too much and needs to go for a walk to clear his head, but he asks her to bless him before he goes, just as she did when he went off to become a soldier. He also tells her that if he does not come back, then she must be like a mother to Santuzza, because he had sworn to marry the girl. He embraces her and runs off.
Lucia is confused, and Santuzza arrives and embraces the old lady. A babble of voices is heard and then a village woman runs into the square shouting ‘hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu!’ – ‘they’ve killed Turiddu!’
Other OperaStory articles can be found on
- Pietro Mascagni’s life and his operas
- Giovanni Verga’s life and his works
- The origins of Cavalleria Rusticana: the short story and the play on which the opera is based
- The librettists of Cavalleria Rusticana – Targioni-Tozzetti and Mensaci
- Mascagni’s big chance: finding the right story
- Putting Cavalleria Rusticana together
- The rehearsals, the first cast and the première of Cavalleria Rusticana
- Places to visit related to Cavalleria Rusticana
- and much, much more
© Roger Witts 2007