Pagliacci - Cavalleria rusticana

Ruggero Leoncavallo - Pietro Mascagni


Cavalleria rusticana

During the prelude, from behind the curtain, Turiddu sings a “Sicilian” serenade to Lola, the girl to whom he had been engaged before going into the army and whom on his return he has found married to Alfio, a well-off teamster. The curtain opens on the square of a village near Catania, with the church on the right and the inn of Mamma Lucia on the left. It is Easter morning, the bells are chiming and the peasants, singing happily, are coming in from their fields and orchards to attend church.

Santuzza, Turiddu’s mistress, suspects that he is striking up a new affair with his old flame (he is reported to have been seen outside Lola’s house in the depths of night) and has come looking for him at his mother’s house, the inn. Lucia coldly tells Santuzza to leave her son in peace. «Why are you looking for him here? Turiddu isn’t here, he has gone to get wine at Francofonte», she says. «That isn’t true», says Santuzza, «he has not left the village».
Lucia is disturbed by this information, guesses the truth and invites Santuzza to come inside to continue the conversation in privacy. «I cannot come into your house», says the girl, «I have been excommunicated. » The discussion between the two women is interrupted by the arrival of Alfio with a group of villagers. They sing a rollicking song about the free and roving life of the teamster.Alfio is deeply content to be at home with his faithful wife in the evening.

Meanwhile the crowd fills the square and the Easter procession forms, to be followed by solemn mass in the church. Because of her scandalous behaviour with Turiddu, Santuzza cannot enter the church and, when Mamma Lucia attemps to leave her, she breaks into tears and tells Mamma Lucia how desperately she loves Turiddu, who had seduced her only to console himself after Lola’s marriage and who still gives his heart to Lola, who in turn still loves him and is openly betraying her husband. As Mamma Lucia goes into the church, she is filled with foreboding.

Santuzza, left alone, sees Turiddu coming and confronts him, asking him to make his intentions clear. He doesn’t want to hear anything about it. First he tries rather ineptly to deny that he has been away from home and that he has seen Lola. Then he begins to quarrel angrily with Santuzza, in a rising ride of male arrogance. He proceeds from hypocritical annoyance at her «reasonless» jealousy to offended pride, to angry menaces that he won’t put up with such offensive ingratitude. Santuzza also progresses from reasonable accusation about his unfaithfulness to anger, humiliation and pleas for pardon, once Turiddu has reacted so that she fears to lose him.

At this point, Lola arrives, singing a mocking song dedicated to Turiddu. When she sees the two, she stops for a moment to ask Santuzza maliciously why she never goes to mass. «Only those who know themselves to be without sin should go», Santuzza retorts angrily.

Lola goes into the church and the lovers take up their quarrel, in a continuously rising pitch, to the pretended wrath of Turiddu and the exasperation of Santuzza, who finally shouts a little-used epithet at him.Turiddu’s response is to turn his back on her and enter the church without so much as a glance at her, which so angers her that she curses him: «This will be an evil Easter for you, you deceiver!».

When Alfio arrives, Santuzza, in a frenzy, reveals to him the liaison between his wife and Turiddu. «While you are riding with the water and the wind to earn your bread, Lola is betraying you», she says.Alfio listens with cold fury, and when he understands that Santuzza is telling him the truth, he swears to avenge his honour.

The mass is over and the crowd comes out of the church. A group of men stops at the inn. Turiddu invites his friends to drink to Easter and offers a glass to Alfio. «Thank you», replies Alfio, «but I will not drink your wine. It might be poisoned». Turiddu understands his meaning and pours the contents of the glass on the ground. «I am at your disposal», he says. These are the simple opening words of an ancient rustic rite. The friends fall silent. Some of the women surround Lola and beg her to go home. Then Turiddu embraces Alfio and, as is the custom, bites his right ear. «Friend, you have taken a good bite, we understand each other», Alfio says coldly.

This is the end of the ritual challenge, the appointment is made to meet immediately in the nearby gardens just outside the village. Before going off to meet his rival,Turiddu begs his mother to bless him, just as she did on the day he left for the army. The poor woman doesn’t understand his impassioned demand, but Turiddu doesn’t give her time to ask any questions and says he has had too much to drink. He also begs her, if he should not return, to be a mother to Santuzza, who is alone in the world and who has been disgraced by him. Then he kisses her several times and runs out of the town.

A few minutes later, it is all over. From the lanes an indistinct murmur is heard and then a wild cry from a woman rushing into the square: «Turiddu has been killed!».



Tonio comes to the stage curtain and asks the audience to meditate on a new theme which the Author has invited him to enact. In reintroducing the time-honoured masks of the Commedia dell’arte, it is not his intention, he explains, to follow the old custom of maintaining that their sentiments are purely fictitious, without any bearing on reality. On the contrary, their passions and tears can at times be all too realistic. The Author therefore wishes to affirm that the artist is a man and must write for men. Aside from theatrical conventions, it is up to the audience to enter into the profoundly human spirit of the characters whom they are about to see played upon this stage. This prologue may thus be considered the manifesto of verist opera.

Act I

The events (inspired by a true crime) are laid at Montalto, a village in Calabria, around 1865. It is a hot afternoon in mid-August, on the Feast of the Assumption. Just outside the village, a troupe of strolling players have pitched their tent and around it a crowd of curious villagers has gathered. To the sound of trumpet peals and the beating of a big drum, the clowns’ cart arrives with Canio standing on it. Though frequently interrupted by festive vociferation, Canio attempts to call public attention to a grand performance, due to commence «at twenty-three hours».

Meanwhile Tonio, the company’s hunchbacked factotum, gallantly helps Nedda to step down from the cart. But her jalous husband, Canio, slaps him and chases him off. Tonio vows to himself to make Canio pay for this affront, while one or two bystanders make joking insinuations about Tonio’s attentions to Nedda. Canio does not find this funny, and mutters darkly that «some games are better not played», reminding them that theatre and life are two separate things. As a husband deceived on stage, he is prepared to endure humiliation and to let the audience have their laugh, but if Nedda were to be unfaithful to him in real life, the comedy would end in tragedy. After saying this, he goes off to the inn with a group of friends, while the churchbells ring for vespers. The crowd, followed by a few bagpipers from a neighbouring village, drift away towards the church.

By herself, Nedda muses uneasily on the glint of jealousy caught in Canio’s eyes, almost as if her husband had read her heart. When about to re-enter, she notices Tonio spying on her and rebukes him scornfully. But again Tonio addresses her amorously. Carried away by passion, he makes a pathetic declaration of love and finally, despite Nedda’s gibes and rejection, attempts to embrace and kiss her. At this point Nedda picks up a whip and strikes him with it, viperishly threatening to report his advances to Canio. «By the August Madonna, you shall pay for this», hisses Tonio, as he slinks away like a wounded beast.

At this moment Silvio, Nedda’s lover, appears and begs her to break away once and for all from Canio’s jealousy, to abandon her husband when the troupe leaves the village the next day and elope with him. Nedda reminds him to be prudent. She is afraid of Canio and implores Silvio not to tempt her, but to leave her only with the heart-rending memory of their love. But in the end, won over by his ardent and wheedling insistence, she gives in.

Tonio, unseen, surprises them and hurries off to warn Canio, who bursts in just in time to hear Nedda promise: «Till this evening, and I will be yours forever». Canio flings himself at his wife but fails to catch sight of Silvio’s face as he leaps over a low wall and escapes down a path. Mad with despair, Canio raises a knife to kill Nedda, commanding her to reveal the lover’s name to him. But Nedda proudly holds her ground and further provokes his rage. Just as Canio is about to strike the blow, Peppe intervenes to restrain him, begging him to desist.The villagers are coming out of church. Let all explanations be put off until later for in the meantime the play must begin. Then let it be simulated, insinuates Tonio with fierce relish. That «sly devil» is bound to return and when he does he will find Canio on the alert. Canio’s fury suddenly subsides, the theatre imposes its law. The Clow succumbs to discomfiture and resignation: «Now must I act, though mad with grief…».

Act II

Late in the evening the audience assembles festively in front of the tent stage, Peppe sets out benches for the women while Tonio invites the audience to take their seats and Nedda goes round collecting the money. Among the spectators is Silvio, to whom Nedda furtively recommends caution, though Canio has not recognized him.

The performance begins, with Peppe (Harlequin), Nedda (Columbine), Tonio (Taddeo) and Canio (Pagliaccio) playing the lead roles. The scene represents a room with a table laid, two chairs and a window at the back. Columbine is listening enraptured to the serenade which Harlequin sings to her from outside, but Taddeo enters and declares his love. When rejected he makes heavily ironic comments on the fair lady’s chastity. Harlequin climbs through the window and sits down for an intimate supper with Columbine after handing her a sleeping potion to give to her husband. Just then the unexpected arrival of Pagliaccio is announced by Taddeo, who looks shaken. The dramatic situation of the afternoon seems to repeat itself in theatrical pretence.

Columbine quickly sends off Harlequin with the same promise of love made to Silvio. Her words from the script ring with tremendous force in Canio’s breast. For a few moments he sticks to be play, but identifies himself ever more intensely with the role of the cuckolded Clown, until he finally lives the part utterly. With mounting violence he hammers out the question written in the script. Nedda- Columbine guesses the ambiguity of Canio’s accents, while the audience follows the performance with bated breath though still not suspecting the drama enacted before their eyes.

When Columbine, still according to the play, implores: «Pagliaccio, Pagliaccio!», Canio suddenly unleashes all the wrath of his desperation («No, a Clown I am not»). By now beyond all theatrical convention, he orders the woman to confess her lover’s name. The audience, too, have begun to sense that something unusual is happening on stage. Beside himself, Canio screams for the last time «His name, his name!» and stabs Nedda, who drops on her knees calling out Silvio’s name. Silvio rushes in dismay onto the stage but Canio plunges the same blade into his heart. Tonio turns towards the audience and cynically proclaims: «The comedy is over!».

Synopsis by Pier Maria Paoletti, translated by Rodney Stringer


Teatro alla Scala