Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Classics: In "Cav," Turiddu gets his for being a numbskull, while Santa gets hers for being . . . a woman?


In a way better-sounding clip of this excerpt than we saw before, mezzo-soprano Tatiana Troyanos and tenor Plácido Domingo in the final section of the Santuzza-Turiddu scene, in Franco Zeffirelli's Met production of Cavalleria rusticana, with James Levine conducting, April 5, 1978.
TURIDDU [irate]: Ah, you see what you've said?
SANTUZZA: You wanted it, and it serves you right.
TURIDDU [rushing toward her]: Ah! By God!
SANTUZZA: Tear out my heart!
TURIDDU [turning to go]: No!
SANTUZZA [holding onto him]: Turiddu, listen!
SANTUZZA: Turiddu, listen!
No, no, Turiddu! Stay, stay yet.
Would you abandon me then?
TURIDDU: Why follow me, why spy on me
even to the limit of the church?
SANTUZZA: Your Santuzza weeps and begs you.
How can you chase her away like this?
TURIDDU: Go, I repeat, don't pester me.
Repenting is useless after the offense.
SANTUZZA {threatening]: Watch out!
TURIDDU: Your rage doesn't affect me.
[He throws her to the ground and runs into church.]
SANTUZZA: To you an evil Easter, betrayer!

by Ken

"Sola, perduta, abbandonata" -- "alone, lost, abandoned" -- is an outburst of Puccini's Manon Lescaut, but if ever there was a woman who could fairly register this complaint, it's poor Santuzza, the heroine of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana" (Rustic Chivalry). We've been dancing around the opera, and now I think we're finally ready to lay out what makes it seem to me an utterly remarkable piece of musical dramaturgy.

As I've tried to suggest, Santuzza is such a creature of this village that she's imprisoned by its social mores. Most obviously, no one in the village hymnifies more ardently the glad Easter tiding that "our Lord isn't dead." True, she's been a bad girl in her nonmarital dalliance with Turiddu, but she's the one who's punished, excommunicated, while Turiddu gets off scotfree. You may argue that the fate that befalls him in the opera doesn't seem quite scotfree, but remember, he pays that price, not for his fling with Santa, but for his stubborn and stupid insistence on carrying on with the now-married Lola. These are the village's beautiful people, who want what they want when they want it, and think they can get away with it.


Preview: Mr. Mascagni goes to the movies (1) [10/8/10]
Mascagni excerpts used in Raging Bull: part of the Cav Intermezzo plus the Barcarolle from Silvana and the Act III Intermezzo from Guglielmo Ratcliff

Preview: Mr. Mascagni goes to the movies (2) [10/9/10]
Turiddu's "Siciliana" sung by Enrico Caruso and José Cura and Santuzza's "Ineggiamo" sung by Fiorenza Cossotto (1965 audio recording and 1976 Tokyo video)

Main post: It's a shame we don't have a verb that means "to celebrate by singing hymns" [10/10/10]
The "Ineggiamo" again, sung by Waltraud Meier (video); Alfio the teamster's entrance sung by Ettore Batianini, Alexandru Agache, Robert Merrill; the Prelude and "Siciliana" from complete Cav recordings with Jussi Bjoerling (Alberto Erede, cond., RCA/Decca), Giuseppe di Stefano (Tullio Serafin, cond., EMI), Franco Corelli (Gabriele Santini, cond., EMI), and Carlo Bergonzi (Herbert von Karajan, cond., DG); and a bouquet of performances of the complete Easter-hymn sequence and just the "Ineggiamo"; plus a video tease of the final section of the Santuzza-Turiddu scene

Preview: Poor Santuzza is a prisoner of her village's "family values" [10/29/10]
Our first hearing of Santuzza's crucial aria "Voi lo sapete," and a close-ish look at the little scene in which Santuzza first tries to find out from Turiddu's mother where he is.

Preview: The "bad boys" of Cav 'n' Pag [10/30/10]
We heard the troubled tenor protagonists of the two operas before and after their meltdowns: Turiddu (in Cav) singing his Brindisi and then the Addio alla madre, Canio (in Pag) singing "Un grande spettacolo" and "No, Pagliaccio non son" (with an extra "Vesti la giubba" thrown in).

We're going to retrace, this time in proper order, events we've already touched on in one way or another. Just to be clear, the numbering of these events isn't meant to suggest anything about "highlights" or "dramatic cruxes." They're just to help us keep our place.


The year Cavalleria rusticana turned 50, composer Pietro Mascagni, then 76, was invited to make a complete recording of the opera, and almost everybody insists it's too slow. You'll hear people prattle on about incorrect "versimo style," which to them seems to mean slam-bam blood 'n' guts. Now I don't usually make appeals to a "composer's intention," preferring to try to glean a work's intention, but I do think it's at least worth considering whether the composer may have known something about his creation.

I'm suggesting that he was trying to create the world of this remote Sicilian village as it awakens to the hot Easter morning -- the moderate tempos seem to me to seethe with the already considerable heat to which the villagers automatically adjust their movements. And then, in this low-key atmosphere, discord flares and finally violence erupts.

Let's listen to the opening of the recording, bearing in mind that tenor Beniamino Gigli had turned 50 the month before. He still had a lot of singing years left in him; this is the case of a lyric tenor who did much if not most of his singing in the heavier-weight spinto- and dramatic-tenor repertory, and by this time there wasn't much lyric ease or plush left in the voice -- and once it was gone (and time would surely have taken it from him anyway), he didn't have to worry about preserving it anymore.

MASCAGNI: Cavalleria rusticana: Prelude and "Siciliana"
O Lola of the milk-white blouse,
of the fair skin and cherry lips,
when you come laughing to the window,
happy is he who first can kiss you.
Blood has been shed across your door,
but I shall not care if I am slain there.
And if I should die and go to Paradise
and not find you there, I would not stay.
Beniamino Gigli (t), Turiddu; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Pietro Mascagni, cond. EMI, recorded April 1940

It's sometimes suggested that Mascagni was just too old when he made the commercial recording, and it's certainly true that he was no longer the same young man who created the opera 50 years earlier. However, while it's admittedly only a couple of years earlier than the recording, in the live performance from The Hague from which we've already heard excerpts, he took pretty similar tempos.

Antonio Melandri (t), Turiddu; Orchestra of Opera Italiana d'Olanda, Pietro Mascagni, cond. Bongiovanni, recorded live in The Hague, Nov. 7, 1938

And when Leonard Bernstein undertook Cav at the Met, when Franco Zeffirelli's still-in-use Cav-Pag production was new in 1970 -- pointedly conducting only the Mascagni opera and not Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, which was entrusted to the conventionally dependable, and dependably conventional, Fausto Cleva -- he took a similar approach.

Franco Corelli (t), Turiddu; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Live performance, Feb. 7, 1970

Far more typical of opera-house rough handling is this excerpt from a performance we're going to be returning to in this post, routinely but energetically conducted by the aforementioned Fausto Cleva but featuring some quite out-of-the-ordinary singing by Irene Dalis (a fine singer who didn't get nearly her due; we haven't had a dramatic mezzo anywhere near her worth in a long while) and Barry Morell (who, to be honest, I never heard otherwise do any singing on this level -- he really did an afternoon's work that Saturday). Please note that the source for this performance is at quite a high volume level, which I didn't succeed in taming even in the couple of excerpts I edited.

Barry Morell (t), Turiddu; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Dec. 8, 1962


This, you recall, is the little scene in which Santuzza tries to find out from Turiddu's mother where he is. That moment I love so much, Santuzza's "Mamma Lucia, I beg you, weeping," comes at 2:16 of our clip today, and after Mamma Lucia's "Enter" (at 3:16), Santa's heart-rending cry of "I'm excommunicated, I'm excommunicated" comes at 3:26.

MASCAGNI: Cavalleria rusticana:
Santuzza, "Dite, Mamma Lucia"

SANTUZZA: Tell me, Mamma Lucia . . .
MAMMA LUCIA [surprised]: It's you? What do you want?
SANTUZZA: Where is Turiddu?
MAMMA LUCIA: So you come here to look
for my son?
SANTUZZA: I just want to know,
forgive me, where to find him.
MAMMA LUCIA: I don't know, I don't know. I don't want trouble.
SANTUZZA: Mamma Lucia, I beg you, weeping,
act as our Lord did toward Mary Magdalen.
Tell me for pity's sake, where is Turiddu?

Tell me for pity's sake, where is Turiddu?
MAMMA LUCIA: He went for wine to Francofonte.
SANTUZZA: No! He was seen in the village late last night.
MAMMA LUCIA: What are you saying? If he didn't come home . . .
[Going toward her house] Enter.
SANTUZZA: I can't enter your house. I can't enter.
I'm excommunicated. I'm excommunicated.

MAMMA LUCIA: And what do would you know about my dear son?
SANTUZZA: What a thorn I have in my heart!
Irene Dalis (ms), Santuzza; Lili Chookasian (c), Mamma Lucia; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Dec. 8, 1962


The above dialogue between Santuzza and Mamma Lucia is interrupted, you'll recall, by the music announcing the entrance of the teamster Alfio, who mentions in his energetic song that when he finishes his rounds he returns home to "Lola." A "Lola," again you'll recall, is the woman to whom our offstage tenor sang his seductive "Siciliana" in the Prelude.

It's Francis Ford Coppola's "highly dramatic (or literally melodramatic) use (or more accurately abuse) [in The Godfather Part III] of the great Easter service, which provides a backdrop for the film's climactic serial bloodbath," that forms the basis for my complaint about what he did with, or to, the opera. As I wrote:
I know people will think I'm engaged in fuddy-duddyist nitpicking when I complain about Coppola's mendacious rearrangement, moving the Easter hymn of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana from virtually the beginning of the opera to virtually the end. Give us a break, isn't that just a bit of dramatic license?

Well, no, it isn't. It not only misrepresents the kind of story-telling Mascagni was engaged in, which is bad enough (come on now, if you think Cavalleria is worthy enough to exploit for your own dramatic purpose as the Sicilian-themed opera that Michael Corleone's son Anthony is singing for his operatic debut, in the capital of Corleone country, Palermo, Sicily, then I'm sorry, you have an obligation not to falsify it so blatantly), but transforms the intense character portraits Mascagni was undertaking into cheesy melodrama -- "operatic" in the conventionally disparaging sense.

Bottom line: Coppola has every right to choose cheesy melodrama for his own story-telling, but not to transform other people's into it.

In this excerpt from the composer's 1938 Hague performance, the moment I love, when the organ first sounds, preparing us for the beginning of the Easter service inside the church (with the singing of the "Regina coeli), occurs at 3:07. I know we've heard the Easter hymn -- with the "Regina coeli" (at 3:36 of our clip) being sung inside the church and the villagers still outside singing, "Let us celebrate in hymn that our Lord isn't dead." But we're going to hear the scene beginning with the "Regina coeli" once more, because this is, remember, our starting point -- my extreme discontent with the trashing inflicted on the opera by Coppola in Godfather III.

MASCAGNI: Cavalleria rusticana: (1) Alfio, "Il cavallo scalpita" . . . (2) Mamma Lucia, "Beato voi, compar Alfio" . . . (3) "Regina coeli" . . . (4) Chorus, then Santuzza, "Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto"
(1) ALFIO: The horse's hooves thunder,
the harness bells jingle,
the whip cracks, ehi là!!
Let the cold wind blow,
let rain or snow fall,
to me what does it matter?
VILLAGERS: Oh, what a lovely way of life,
to be a carter,
to go here and there.
ALFIO: The whip cracks, the whip cracks, ehi là!

ALFIO: Waiting for me at home is Lola,
who loves me and comforts me,
who is ever faithful.
The horse's hooves thunder,
the harness bells jingle,
it's Easter and here I am!
VILLAGERS: Oh, what a lovely way of life,
to be a carter,
to go here and there.
ALFIO: The whip cracks, the whip cracks, ehi là!

(2) MAMMA LUCIA: You're lucky, friend Alfio,
that you're always so happy.
ALFIO: Mamma Lucia, you don't still have
any of that old wine?
MAMMA LUCIA: I don't know.
Turiddu has gone to get some.
ALFIO: But he's still here.
I saw him this morning
near my house.
SANTUZZA [quickly to MAMMA LUCIA]: Be quiet.
[From the church the Alleluja is heard sounding.]
ALFIO: I'm going now.
You others go in chuch. [Exits.]

(3) CHORUS INSIDE THE CHURCH: Regina coeli laetare --
Allelua! --
Quia quem meruisti portare --
Alleluja! --
Resurrexit sicut dixit --

Let us rejoice in hymn,
the Lord is not dead,
He in glory
has opened the tomb.
Let us rejoice in hymn
at the Lord's rising again,
ascending to Heaven.
[Everyone has entered the church except SANTUZZA and MAMMA LUCIA.]
Afro Poli (b), Alfio; Rina Gallo Toscani (ms), Mamma Lucia; Lina Bruna Rasa (s), Santuzza; Chorus and Orchestra of Opera Italiana d'Olanda, Pietro Mascagni, cond. Bongiovanni, recorded live in The Hague, Nov. 7, 1938
[from "Regina coeli" only] Irene Dalis (ms), Santuzza; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Dec. 8, 1962


Once the churchgoers have dispersed, Mamma Lucia asks Santuzza why she silenced her when Alfio pointed out that Turiddu is still in the village, having been seen near his house last night. On only one point does it seem to me that Santuzza is to be mistrusted here, but unfortunately it's the one that's most important to her: her belief that Turiddu loved her. There doesn't seem to be any evidence of this. Rather she seems to have been a convenient outlet for his urges when he came back from the army and found his beloved Lola married.

MASCAGNI: Cavalleria rusticana: Santuzza, "Voi lo sapete"
SANTUZZA: As you know, Mamma,
before going off to be a soldier
Turiddu had sworn
eternal faith to Lola.
He returned, found her married,
and with a new love
wanted to quench the fire
that burned in his heart.
He loved me. I loved him.

She, that envier of any joy of mine,
forgetting her husband,
burning with jealousy,
snatched him from me.
Here I am stripped of my honor.
Lola and Turiddu are lovers.
I weep. I weep.

MAMMA LUCIA: Mercy on us, what on earth
have you just told me,
on this blessed day?
SANTUZZA: I'm damned. I'm damned.
Go, Mamma, to implore God,
and pray for me.
Turiddu will be coming.
I want to plead with him
yet one more time.
MAMMA LUCIA [going toward the church]: Help her, Blessed Mary.
Maria Callas (s), Santuzza; Ebe Ticozzi (ms), Mamma Lucia; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded June 16-25 and Aug. 3-4, 1953
Renata Tebaldi (s), Santuzza; Rina Corsi (ms), Mamma Lucia; Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Alberto Erede, cond. RCA/Decca, recorded Sept. 1-7, 1957
Victoria de los Angeles (s), Santuzza; Corinna Vozza (ms), Mamma Lucia; Rome Opera Orchestra, Gabriele Santini, cond. EMI, recorded 1962
Irene Dalis (ms), Santuzza; Lili Chookasian (c), Mamma Lucia; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Dec. 8, 1962


Sure enough, Turiddu makes his belated Easter appearance, and Santuzza demonstrates the sadly human inability to believe an ex-lover when he says it's over. By and large, when one party has been as emphatic about the overness as Turiddu, it's only a deludedly overactive imagination on the other party's part which allows for any other possibility.

We're hearing just the later part of this climactic confrontation, including Santa's desperate final plea to Turiddu stay with her ("No, no, Turiddu; Turiddu, Turiddu, rimani"), for which you'll recognize we've already heard the music in the Prelude. It would be hard to imagine four Santuzzas more unlike, vocally and dramatically. than Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, Victoria de los Angeles, and Irene Dalis, but in their very different ways I think they communicate masterfully the character's desperation and desolation. As for the Turiddus, Jussi Bjoerling's technical mastery and vocal magic camouflage the fact that his tenor is underweight for the role -- as is Giuseppe di Stefano's, perhaps by natural endowment even more beautiful than Bjoerling's, though his already-evident tendency to vocal pushing and heaving conceals the vocal underendowment less well. The role really asks for something like Franco Corelli's gleaming dramatic-weight tenor. At least on this Saturday afternoon Barry Morell sounds uncannily like the genuine article.

MASCAGNI: Cavalleria rusticana: Turiddu, "Ah! lo vedi, che hai tu detto" . . . Santuzza, "No, no, Turiddu"
[for texts see above]
Giuseppe di Stefano (t), Turiddu; Maria Callas (s), Santuzza; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded June 16-25 and Aug. 3-4, 1953
Jussi Bjoerling (t), Turiddu; Renata Tebaldi (s), Santuzza; Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Alberto Erede, cond. RCA/Decca, recorded Sept. 1-7, 1957
Franco Corelli (t), Turiddu; Victoria de los Angeles (s), Santuzza; Rome Opera Orchestra, Gabriele Santini, cond. EMI, recorded 1962
Barry Morell (t), Turiddu; Irene Dalis (ms), Santuzza; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Dec. 8, 1962

Unfortunately for Turiddu, at this very moment who should happen along but the gentleman he's cuckolding, Alfio? I know to some people this sounds like a coincidence that reeks of the "operatic." To me it seems like pretty much the way life works a lot of the time -- timing counts for a lot. In these circumstances, is it surprising that Santa does, well, what she does? Which is to tell Alfio what he's probably just about the last person in the village to know: what's going on between his wife and Turiddu.

Of course the clock is ticking for Turiddu in any case. How long do you suppose it would be before Alfio found out otherwise? And do you suppose he would be any more, er, understanding then? I'm estimating that Santuzza's untimely revelation merely shortens Turiddu's life by a week -- or maybe two at the outside.


Oh, there's lots more to happen. By a rotten stroke of luck for Turiddu, who should happen along at this very moment but Alfio? And given the state Santuzza's in, she can't stop herself from doing a nasty thing: spilling the beans to the cuckolded husband. My contention, though, is that she only shortens Turiddu's life by maybe a week, tops. In a village this small, how long can Lola and Turiddu's secret remain a secret? Especially since we know that Alfio already knows Turiddu has been hanging around his house.

Then in the opera's second scene we'll have the public celebration that feature's Turiddu's drinking song, and Alfio's confrontation with Turiddu, and Turiddu's tipsy farewell to his puzzled mother, followed shortly by the spreading word that Turiddu has been killed. But I think we'll take our leave where we came in, with the Intermezzo.

MASCAGNI: Cavalleria rusticana: Intermezzo
Orchestra of Opera Italiana d'Olanda, Pietro Mascagni, cond. Bongiovanni, recorded live in The Hague, Nov. 7, 1938

To go out with, I thought I might turn up a performance of the Intermezzo somewhere among my CDs by some particularly intriguing conductor. In truth, though, I've never heard a more beautiful performance than Herbert von Karajan's with the Scala orchestra.

Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Sept.-Oct. 1965

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