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Music by Pietro Mascagni
Libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci after the eponymous novella by Giovanni Verga
Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Stage Director and Lighting Designer: Arnaud Bernard
Costume Designer: Arnaud Bernard, Marianna Stranska
Musical Preparation: Alla Brosterman
Chorus Masters: Nikita Gribanov, Konstantin Rylov
The production uses sets designed by Camille Dugas for the opera I vespri siciliani (Mariinsky Theatre, 2017), a gift of Veronica Atkins
Arnaud Bernard's production transposes the action of the opera's plot from a village in Sicily to the Italian Quarter of New York in the 1920s. The stage director believes that Italian immigrants brought with them to the New World the same earthy and archaic understanding of life and death, faith and honour and love and destiny that were commonly accepted in Sicily in the mid 19th century – the time when the story of Cavalleria rusticana unfolds, the novella serving as the basis for the libretto. If love before marriage can excommunicate a sinner from communion, if treachery leads to a knife-fight between rivals, then an insult may be washed away with blood, piety is proper, vengeance has deep roots and respect for one's mother becomes true "mammismo". In the 1890s, the portrayal of these powerful emotions verging on naturalism found an unexpected and passionate response with audiences and then, immediately following its premiere, the young Pietro Mascagni's first opera was staged at dozens of theatres in Europe and America. It paved the way for an entire movement in Italian opera which was given the name "verismo" (from the Italian "vero" meaning "truth"). By the close of the century verismo had died out, though its ideas were reflected in the operas of Giacomo Puccini and Francesco Cilea among other composers and, later on, in Italian cinema.
Synopsis (based on the production by Arnaud Bernard)
The Sicilian Quarter in New York, 1920s. Easter Sunday. Early morning. After a night spent with Lola, formerly his lover and now the wife of another man, Turiddu sings her a serenade at his departure. They go their separate ways, trying not to draw the attention of any passers-by.
The day is warming up. The residents are coming to church for celebratory mass. Santuzza, Turiddu's betrothed, appears, tormented by jealous suspicions. She asks Lucia, Turiddu's mother, where the latter's son is; Lucia answers that on the eve of the celebration he set out for a neighbouring district to fetch wine. Their discussion is interrupted by the clamorous arrival of the merry fellow Alfio, Lola's husband; he has just returned from a trip and tells them of his business matters. A reference to Turiddu, whom Alfio recently saw near his home, confirms Santuzza in her guess. After the businessman has gone, Santuzza confides her fears to Lucia: Turiddu was once passionately in love with Lola and wanted to marry her but instead had to join the army; on his return, finding his former girlfriend married to Alfio, he was deeply saddened though he gradually developed feelings for Santuzza and they became engaged; on discovering this, Lola again resolved to charm Turiddu. Lucia, despairing at the news, goes to church and Santuzza remains to await her beloved, intent on extracting a confession from him. Turiddu arrives. Santuzza fires off her jealous accusations at him – he denies all, gives evasive answers and lies. As these declarations reach their height Lola appears and, singing a song, speaks with Turiddu in an ironical fashion. The women trade insults. After Lola departs, Santuzza again attempts to make her fiancé see reason, but he loses all self-control, spurns her and runs after the empty-headed flirt. In despair, the rejected Santuzza resolves to be avenged. Fate itself casts her into Alfio's path, and she reveals to him his wife's betrayal. Alfio's mirth is instantly transformed into terrifying wrath.
Meanwhile, mass has ended. The parishioners are planning to celebrate Easter, all are happy, drinking wine and singing songs. When those assembled are joined by Alfio, Turiddu offers him a drink as well, though Alfio rudely declines the offer. Sensing trouble brewing, the women depart. The two rivals understand that a fight between them is inevitable. In accordance with Sicilian custom, they embrace and Turiddu bites Alfio's ear. Before the fight, Turiddu goes to his mother to make his farewells, asks her to bless him and, should the worst happen to him, not to leave the poor Santuzza all alone. Lucia is stunned at her son's strange appearance and she is tormented by some presentiment of disaster. In the meantime, Alfio and his associates are dealing with the offender. A cry is heard announcing that Turiddu has been killed. All rush to the source of the noise. Santuzza shoves Lola onto the bloodied corpse of her beloved.