Wine and Opera part 2: Rustic chivalryBy Rupert Millar
Another opera adapted from a short story, Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” (Rustic Chivalry) was first performed in 1890.
Alongside “Carmen” and several notable works by Puccini, it is considered a verismo opera in that the characters and setting are based on real and contemporary people, not mythical gods and Rhine maidens (Wagner) or historical and literary figures (everyone else).
Set in a Sicilian idyll, the opera is a tale of frustrated love, betrayal and jealousy – with one of the most beautiful intermezzos ever written (listen to it here).
Wine plays an important part in this work as the main character’s mother owns a wine shop, which is also an integral part of the set, and there are many references to wine throughout.
However, 19th century Sicily is a place of rough justice, where wine mixes with blood feuds and violence. The beauty of the surroundings belies a strict, extremely conservative society beholden to codes of honour and chivalry, where death is the only penalty for dishonour or disgrace – the “rustic chivalry” of the title.
The main hero in “Cavalleria Rusticana” is Turiddu, a young man who has returned to his village after his military service to find his erstwhile fiancée, Lola, has married another man, the local carter Alfio.
Bitter and angry he seduces another young girl, Santuzza, which causes Lola to become jealous in turn and cheat on Alfio with Turiddu.
Santuzza begins to fear she has been used and this is confirmed when Turiddu then cruelly rejects her on the steps of the church – which she may not enter because she has slept with Turiddu out of wedlock.
Santuzza then, in her anguish, reveals the affair to Alfio who swears revenge.
After the intermezzo, the villagers come out of the church and Turiddu, now with Lola and having got rid of Santuzza, brings the villagers over to his mother’s wine shop and sings a paean to sparkling wine – “Viva il vino spummengiante”.
“Intanto amici, qua,
Beviamone un bicchiere.
“Viva il vino spumeggiante
Nel bicchiere scintillante
Come il riso dell’amante
Mite infonde il giubilo!” (repeat)
“Hail the wine that gleams and dances,
In the wine cup, red glances,
Like a smile of love entrances,
Endless fount of happiness,
“Viva il vino ch’è sincero,
Che ci alleta ogni pensiero,
E che affoga l’umor nero
Nell’ebbrezza tenera.” (repeat)
“Hail the wine that we all are drinking,
Down with negative sombre thinking,
Black hours out of sight, go slinking,
Leaving us the sunlight free.”
His contentment is not set to last however. Alfio bursts in and challenges him to a duel which he accepts, the two men embracing and Turiddu biting Alfio on the ear hard enough to draw blood to indicate that the struggle will be to the death.
Before he goes to the meeting place, in a fit of remorse and down in his cups, he asks his mother to take care of Santuzza (“Mamma, quel vino e generoso“). At the end the cry goes up that Turiddu has been killed in the duel and many of the ladies faint.
Just another night at the opera.
The video below stars Placido Domingo as Turiddu and Juan Pons as Alfio. Turiddu sings his brindisi with Lola by his side. Alfio enters at the end and confronts him. Turiddu offers him a glass of wine in an attempt at reconciliation.
Turiddu: “Benvenuto! con noi dovete bere: ecco, pieno è il bicchiere.” – “Welcome! come and drink with us: here, the glass is full.”
but Alfio is having none of it…
Alfio: “Grazie, ma il vostro vino io non l’accetto. Diverrebbe veleno entro il mio petto.” – “Thank you, but I cannot accept your wine. It would turn to poison in me.”
Next time: Student drinking in old Heidelberg
Previously: Sultry gypsies in Bizet’s Carmen