Cavalleria Rusticana: an alternative analysis
Mascagni’s masterpiece is a long-time favourite of mine so I have to apologize in advance for carving it up. Whether you see it for the first time or the twenty first time, my warped account may make it … well … different for you. I hope so. The Opera is set in deepest rural Sicily where passions run high; tempers fall short & violent; and the favourite toys are shotguns and sharp, metal pointy things. The favourite leisure activity is; well, you are about to find out. Remember, we are in the land of the Godfathers where honour is taken seriously and whatever you know, you keep quiet about it.
The action takes place on one Easter morning about 120 years ago in a small village where everyone knows everyone else.
The characters are:
(a) Turiddu (tenor), a young man who has difficulty in keeping his pants up. Whatever he thinks with, it’s not his brains.
(b) his mother, Mama Lucia (mezzo), who runs the local bar (and worries a lot about Turiddu).
(c) Santuzza (soprano), former playmate of Turiddu who has been given the brush-off. (A woman scorned, a time bomb!)
(d) Alfio (bass), the local haulage contractor who is as thick as a pole and is away from home a lot. He is the husband of:
(e) Lola (mezzo), a local sexpot who doesn’t mind in the least that Alfio is not always at home!
Turiddu and Lola were enthusiastic playmates until he had to go and do his military service. Lola was distraught and waited all of five minutes for him before she upped and married Alfio. When Turiddu returned home, he overcame his disappointment in about the same time before turning the old charm on Santuzza who fell for it hook, line and sinker. She was quite happy to become his new playmate. (I’m sorry sir, was there a question? What games did they play? Oh, surely I don’t have to spell it out for you? Ah, you’ve caught on! Splendid!). Santuzza looked forward to marriage – Turiddu never gave it a thought, he was quite happy just to keep practising. When you’re young and hotblooded, you’ll promise anything, won’t you? Remember, this was 120 years ago when marriage was the way forward and if you erred, the Church revoked your membership and this is what’s happened to Santuzza. She’s none too pleased about it. Meanwhile, Lola (the local sexpot remember) is wondering how to pass the time while Alfio’s away on business. She only has to bat her eyes at Turiddu, who, quick as a flash is back in between the sheets with her while at the same time dropping Santuzza, who is simply furious!
OK RING UP THE CURTAIN. A beautiful orchestral prelude signals the dawn of the Easter day only to be interrupted by that oaf Turiddu, bawling out a serenade to Lola, presumably having just left her bed, pants in one hand and boots in the other. Instead of sneaking off quietly, quickly and invisibly … (who said that! No, it is NOT my personal experience) … he stops to sing! Now as we all know, sound carries for miles in the early morning air but the locals who are on their way home after the early morning shift in the fields must be deaf because they don’t seem to have heard a thing! No one says, “Hang on a minute, isn’t that Turiddu? He’s playing a dangerous game, he is!”
What was that? Get on with it? Oh, very well!
Enter Santuzza looking for Turiddu. She spots Mama Lucia sweeping out the bar after last night’s darts competition and booze-up, and asks Mama if she’s seen Turiddu. Mama Lucia says, ‘Look Santa, don’t start all that again, anyway, he’s gone to Francofonte to buy some more wine.” Now before Santuzza can spill the beans, enter Alfio with his mates, having been out on the road all night. Well … you can tell how stupid he is because he immediately sings about the wonderful life of a carter, out in all weathers; in the wind and icy rain for hours on end and how great it is to go home to his wonderful, faithful (?) wife. HA! He and Mama Lucia must be the only two in the village to believe all that. Anyway, Alfio says “I must be getting off home but before I go, how about a glass of your best paint stripper?” Again you can see that he’s two sandwiches short of a full picnic … (I’m sorry sir, I was meaning that he’s not all there … where?… he’s a dimwit!) … If he’s carter, why didn’t he cart a barrel home with him!! … (he’s not the only one who’s a dimwit). Where was I? Well, Mama Lucia tells him that last night’s darts players drunk it all but not to worry, Turiddu’s gone to Francofonte to buy some more. Alfio tries to get his brain into gear. “Funny,” he says, “I could have sworn I saw him earlier on; up by my place as a matter of fact. Ah well, I’m off home, see you later.”
The action dries up for a few minutes while the Church choir comes past in procession, carrying a statue of the Virgin & Child, on their way to Church. They sing a beautiful Easter hymn, led by Santuzza, who seems to have forgotten that the local priest won’t let her in the place. As soon as they’ve gone, Mama Lucia says, “Now what’s going on? Why did you nudge me when I told Alfio that Turiddu’s away buying some more wine?” Poor old Santa can’t keep quiet any longer. She spills the beans. Turiddu has given her the push and has gone back to jousting with Lola …(I said ‘jousting’ … oh no you didn’t … oh yes I did) … Now Mama Lucia has been around long enough to know that disaster might just be around the corner and she goes zapping off into Church to do some hight powered praying. All a bit late in the day! … (you thought it was supposed to be morning? Well yes, it is … oh, never mind).
Now who should come strolling along but young Turiddu “’allo there Santa” he says, “what are you hanging about for.” Now get this. Santuzza, hands on hips and one foot tapping, asks the question that has struck dread into all of us at one time or another – “and just where do you think you’ve been?” Oh, do wake up! It’s exactly what we get asked when we roll home (maybe slightly late) after a beer or six with the boys, isn’t it? Come on, don’t look blank – don’t try and tell me that you’ve not been faced with a bloodcurdling apparition in dressing gown & slippers, complete with face pack and hair rollers, putting precisely that same question to you? I’ll tell you this, – time and experience have left me with a few snappy answers … none of which work! I digress!
Turiddu confidently lies that he’s been to Francofonte, wine buying, and Santuzza just as confidently shoots him down by letting the cat out of the bag … (No sir, there’s not a cat in the Opera, it’s merely a figure of speech) … about Turiddu and Lola canoodling the night away. There then follows what can only be described as a blazing and ferocious argument between them (beautifully sung of course) with Santuzza pleading to be re-instated in Turiddu’s affections and Turiddu telling her she’s no chance. It’s a blistering scrap folks which is suddenly interrupted by that little sexpot Lola, sashaying her way across the stage on her way to Church and at the same time singing a happy little song. Santuzza and Turiddu momentarily suspend hostilities to enable Santuzza and Lola to exchange sarcastic pleasantries with one another in a thoroughly bitchy manner before Lola, totally unconcerned, sways her hips right into Church.
Santuzza and Turiddu resume their red-hot slanging match but the poor lad hasn’t a chance and bolts off to Church with Santuzza having the last word (they always do), “And a Happy Easter to you too, mate!”
Now I hope that you are still with me, because the you-know-what is about to hit the fan in a big way.
… (Pardon? … what is you-know-what? … somebody tell him for goodness sake. There’s one in every audience).
Anyway, Santuzza is left smouldering on stage alone … (not you again – no! She is NOT on fire! As I said before, it’s just a figure of speech for the benefit of the likes of you and your ilk. You do know what an ‘ilk’ is don’t you? … I give in … no! It’s not a big deer!) … when along comes the intellectually challenged Alfio. The conversation (sung of course) goes something like this:
A: “Oh, hi Santuzza, I can’t seem to find Lola. Have you seen her?”
S: “I’ve seen her alright! She’s just gone into Church with her playmate.”
S: “Turiddu, you fathead! You really have no idea have you?”
A: “Why Santa, whatever do you mean?”
S: “You don’t think that they’re sitting up all night, in your bed, discussing ‘tenor of the century’ do you?”
A: (realization slowly dawning) “You don’t mean?…”
S: “You catch on quick! You’d better believe it sweetie!”
A: “There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation – oh, by the way, if you’re wrong, – I’ll rip your heart out, ‘bye”.
Well, it’s now plain that while Alfio may be dim, there is every reason to think that he might be a bit violent as well. Away he trots leaving Santuzza thinking, “Whoops! I could have overdone things there” She makes a hasty exit and the orchestra plays a superb little intermezzo while we get our breath back.
OK, let’s get back to it: LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION … (look, I don’t know why I said that, it’s just a way of starting things up again … if you can do any better YOU have a go! … Right!) The service is over and everyone comes out of Church straight into the nearest bar… (Oh yes, you know all about that bit don’t do!) … which is Mama Lucia’s, where Turiddu fills up everyone’s glass and sings a rousing drinking song, when … enter Alfio. He may not be the sharpest tool in the box but he’s looking like a hungry cobra … (now what? … I know that there are no cobra’s in Sicily … can I proceed?… is that all right with you?… thank you so much) … Everything goes quiet and people start disappearing.
There is an awkward silence, then:
T: “Happy Easter, Alf. Have a drink.”
A: “Not from you mate, it might be poisoned.”
He takes a nasty looking knife out of his pocket and casually starts trimming his nails.
T: “I take it you’ve found out then.”
Turiddu realises that he’s in deepest doo-doo and leaps at Alfio and bites his ear. Before you ask, I understand that this is the Sicilian way of issuing a challenge, but I’ve asked Luciano who runs the Pizza take-away around the corner and he says he’s never heard of such a daft thing. Anyway, Alfio doesn’t get ruffled (personally, I’d have busted Turiddu one in the teeth, just to start things) and tells Turiddu that he’ll wait for him in the back garden while Turiddu puts his affairs in order.
Well, it’s quite plain that Turiddu is in a real mess. He’s probably wishing he had never seen Lola. Poor old Mama Lucia is getting into a state of panic and Turiddu tells her, “Look Mum, that wine is a bit strong. I’m just going to have to go out for a bit of air. I have to tell you – I’ve treated Santa in a bad way – I promised that I would marry her and as you know, I haven’t. So if I don’t come back, please be a mother to her.” And with that, he rushes off for his meeting with Alfio and that nasty knife.
So there you are. Mama Lucia is clutching on to Santuzza, who realizes that things have gone from bad to worse.
The square is beginning to fill up again with everyone muttering and being filled with a sense of dread, when one of the village girls rushes in screaming that Turiddu has been killed. The orchestra crashes out it’s final chords, people faint all over the place and that is the end. Finito!
… What?… you again! … What do you mean, – ‘is that it’? Well, it’s the end of the Opera but there’s a final thought. You remember that I said that this is the land of the Godfathers? Where ‘Omerta’ rules? … (‘silence’… to you). Well the final words of the opera are – and this is the genius of Mascagni – ‘Hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu’ which loosely translates as ‘they have murdered friend Turiddu.’
Who is ‘they?’
No one is telling!