Fragments from the opera "Rural Honour" for the 160th anniversary of Pietro Mascagni

Italian opera composer Pietro Mascagni was born on December 7, 1863 in Livorno. After completing his musical studies at the Milan Conservatory, where his teacher was Amilcare Ponchielli* (1834-1886), Mascagni worked for several years as Kapellmeister and town music director in Cerignola. The composer gained fame when he wrote the opera “Rural Honour” (Cavalleria Rusticana), based on a play by Giovanni Verga (1840-1922). It was first staged at the Constanta theatre in Rome in 1890. "Rural Honour" became one of the greatest sensations in the history of opera and practically inaugurated Verismo, a movement in Italian dramatic music. Verismo intensively exploited those means of artistic language that created the effects of heightened dramatic expression, open, naked emotions, and contributed to the colourful embodiment of the everyday life of the urban and rural poor people. In order to create an atmosphere of condensed emotional states, Mascagni was the first in opera practice to use the so-called "aria of the scream" - with extremely liberated melodism down to shouts, with powerful unison duplication of the vocal part by the orchestra at the moment of the culmination.

After the success of “Rural Honour”, Mascagni was appointed director of the Lyceum of Music in Pesaro and then director of the National School of Music in Rome. In addition to “Rural Honour”, Mascagni composed 14 other operas and two operettas ("Friend Fritz", 1891; "William Ratcliff”, 1895; "Iris", 1898; "Masques", 1901 and others; the last one, "Nero", was written in 1935). The composer also wrote works for symphony orchestra, film music, and vocal scores. In 1900, Mascagni came to Russia with concerts and conversations about the state of contemporary opera and was received very warmly. He conducted The Sixth Symphony by Pyotr Tchaikovsky; the bandsmen said that Mascagni conducted as the composer himself once did.

Nevertheless, Mascagni failed to repeat the success of “Rural Honour”. The main reason for his failure, according to experts, was that the very development of romantic opera at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was already coming to an end. The effect of the novelty of verismo operas quickly passed, besides, Mascagni had a powerful competitor in this field -- Giacomo Puccini. They were constantly compared, and the comparisons were usually in favour of the latter.

During Mascagni's lifetime, the opera “Rural Honour” was performed 14,000 times in Italy alone - that's about 21 performances every month for 55 consecutive years. The opera is now performed more than 700 times a year on the world's stages. This stunning operatic masterpiece has been adapted more than once, but the most famous screen execution was the 1982 film opera directed by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli. The role of Santuzza in this film was played by the great Russian singer Elena Obraztsova.

The divine music of Pietro Mascagni from the opera "Rural Honour" is known, unwittingly, by millions of people thanks to the film "The Godfather-3" (Michael Corleone's son Anthony makes his debut as a singer in this very opera and all final dramatic the ups and downs of life in the film take place to the music of Mascagni). The final cry in the film, "They killed the girl Maria!" echoes the curtain line of the opera, "They killed Turiddu!” Memories and death of Michael Corleone are accompanied by an incredibly poignant Intermezzo from that opera.

Here is a musical selection of fragments from the composer's most famous opera. The selection, timed to coincide with the 160th anniversary of Pietro Mascagni, includes recordings from gramophone records and paper music rolls.

* Amilcare Ponchielli, composer of the opera La Gioconda, staged in St Petersburg in 1884