Mascagni first studied composition in Milan, rejecting his father’s wishes to continue the family bakery business. At the age of 26 he achieved immediate fame by winning first prize in a competition for one-act operas. Although he wrote other operas, none matched the success of Cavalleria Rusticana, which was played worldwide and influenced many other composers of the time.
This one-act opera is a concise, passionate tale of Sicilian peasants, with lashings of love, jealousy and tragic death. In brief, Alfio a carterer, murders neighbour Turiddu in a duel having been told of Turiddu’s relationship with his wife Lola by the rejected Santuzza, a village girl. At the heart of the opera is the intrigue and infidelity between all the principal characters. The opera ends with Alfio the victor and Santuzza in a deep swoon, her lover dead. This is a simple tale, played with great passion.
The famous Intermezzo is a serene interlude played to an empty stage representing the calm before the storm, the final climax of the death of Turiddu.