06 April 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Spotlight Mascagni: “Cavalleria rusticana”

“The Italians…divide the works’ interpretative history into two ages: ‘pre-Karajan and post-Karajan’.” (Richard Osborne)

“Cavalleria Rusticana” is an Italian classic and by far the most popular work by Pietro Mascagni. The short one-act rural tragedy was the 26-year-old Mascagni’s contribution to a composer’s competition in 1890. It caused a sensation and brought him international fame.

“Cavalleria Rusticana” was one of Karajan’s first operas in his Ulm years. He already had already begun to conduct without a score at the age of 21 and was caught off guard when the tenor came in far too early. During World War II, Karajan witnessed Mascagni conducting a concert at the Scala di Milano. “Though ill and lame, Mascagni had hobbled onto the rostrum to conduct the intermezzo to L’amico Fritz. Karajan would later recall: ‘He finally got there and settled himself. He lifted his baton. And well – there was suddenly a great explosion of sound no one possibly have anticipated. I shall never forget it. It was incredible.’” (Richard Osborne)

In the mid-1960s, Karajan conducted “Cavalleria” several times at La Scala. He recorded it with Fiorenza Cossotto and Carlo Bergonzi in the studio and for a film version of the Scala production directed by Giorgio Strehler, again with Fiorenza Cossotto as Santuzza and this time with Gianfranco Cecchele as Turiddu.

Richard Osborne “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

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