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Concerts

Spring 2017

LA SONNAMBULA (1831)
Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)

"Viva Amina"
The Chorus

"A fosco cielo"
The Chorus with VanNessa Hulme, Trisha Rivera, Marco Lozano, and David Childs

I PURITANI (1835)
Vincenzo Bellini

"A festa"
The Chorus

"Ah! per sempre"
Roberto Perlas Gómez

NORMA (1831)
Vincenzo Bellini

"Dell' aura tua profetica"
The Men's Chorus

"Meco all' altar" and "Me protegge"
Todd Wilander, Thomas Hollow, and the Walter Fox Singers

"Norma viene"
The Chorus

"Casta Diva" and "Ah! Bello a me ritorno"
Shana Blake Hill and the Chorus

"Non parti?"
The Men's Chorus

Finale
Ms. Hill, Mr. Wilander, Mr. Gómez and the Chorus

INTERMISSION

PAGLIACCI (1892)
Ruggero Leoncavallo (1850-1919)

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Prologue
Mr. Gómez

"Son qua!"
Mr. Wilander and the Chorus

"I zampognari"
The Chorus

"Silvio! A quest' ora"
Ms. Hill and Mr. Gómez

SILVANO (1895)
Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945)

"O marinai"
The Women's Chorus

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA (1890)
Pietro Mascagni

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“Gli aranci olezzano”
The Chorus

“Il cavallo scalpita”
Mr. Gómez and the Chorus

“A casa, a casa, amici” and “Viva il vino spumeggiante”
Mr. Wilander and the Chorus

Intermezzo
Laraine Ann Madden, piano

“Mamma, quell vino è generoso”
Mr. Wilander

“Regina Coeli” and “Inneggiamo il Signor non è morto!”
Ms. Hill, The Walter Fox Singers, Mr. Wilander, Mr Gómez, and the Chorus

Shana Blake Hill

Soprano

Todd Wilander

Tenor

Roberto Perlas Gómez

Baritone

Program Notes

Opera is perhaps the art most characterized by and dependent on heightened emotion and dramatic action, and composers and librettists alike have continually looked for appropriate stories to fire inspiration. Whether filled with jealous rage or unfulfilled love, nationalistic or religious fervor, the conflicts raised in both love and war, and frequently both at the same time, have provided a fertile field for musical drama. The dual themes of love and war have been linked in opera almost from its very beginning, with both Ritorno d’Ulisse’s and Dido and Aeneas’s male protagonists’ journeys initiated by the end of the Trojan War. The pairing of the big picture with the small, with personal relationships intensified against the background of world tumult, is the linchpin of many operatic classics. Perhaps no one used these contrasts to better effect than Giuseppe Verdi, but they also drive the works we present in this concert.

Vincenzo Bellini was born to a musical family in Catania, Sicily in 1801 and soon recognized as a prodigy, allegedly studying music at the age of two and composing his first pieces when he was six. He left Sicily to study at the conservatory in Naples in 1819, and his first forays into opera led to a commission from La Scala in 1827 for the highly successful Il pirata. From 1830 to 1835, Bellini created his most enduring operas, among them I Capuletti e i Montecchi, La sonnambula, Norma, and I puritani (which premiered only months before his tragically early death at 33.) (A phrase from Amina’s final aria in La sonnambula, ”Ah! non credea mirarti sì presto estinto, o fiore (I did not believe you would fade so soon, oh flower”) is inscribed on Bellini’s tomb in Sicily.) In spite of his short career, he ranks with the other giants of bel canto, Rossini and Donizetti. Bellini had an unusually long and fruitful partnership with one librettist, Felice Romani, who was the most admired librettist of his age and wrote hundreds of libretti, including several for Rossini, Donizetti, and even one for the young Verdi. Romani wrote eight of Bellini’s eleven libretti, starting from his first great success, Il pirata, and including I Capuletti, La sonnambula, and Norma. Unlike the operas of Rossini and Donizetti, who shone in both drama and comedy, Bellini’s were all opera serie, and indeed did not even feature any significant comic scenes. He is especially admired for his long melodic lines, praised by such dissimilar composers as Verdi, Wagner, Chopin, and his friend and mentor Rossini.

LA SONNAMBULA

La sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) was based on a ballet-pantomime of essentially the same title by Eugène Scribe and Jean-Pierre Aumer. The subject of the sleepwalker was a popular one on the stage from the 17th to 19th centuries, especially during the Romantic era. As with mad scenes, the unrestrained expression of feelings of the sleepwalker afforded the opera composer an opportunity for the highly florid and dramatic music so popular with prima donnas of the day as well as their ardent fans. The simple story of love and jealousy features Amina, an innocent orphan who is about to marry the prosperous landowner Elvino when the opera opens. Unknown to all, Amina is prone to sleepwalking. When she is discovered asleep in the room of the lord of the village, Count Rodolfo, Elvino breaks off the wedding and is about to marry someone else when the truth is revealed and all ends happily for the young lovers. At its premiere in Milan in 1831, Bellini achieved another stunning success, followed soon by successful productions in London and New York.

The opera begins with the villagers arriving for the wedding and joyously wishing a long life to their much-loved Amina (“Viva Amina!”).

 

As darkness approaches, Amina’s adoptive mother Teresa warns the villagers that it’s time to go inside to avoid the village ghost. Rodolfo is interested, then dismissive, but the villagers assure him that it exists. At the sky’s dimming (“A fosco cielo”) into dark night, with the dim ray of an uncertain moon and the gloomy sound of distant thunder, from the hills appears a shade. She is wrapped in a trailing white shroud, her hair unfastened and with a burning eye. She advances through a thick fog blown by the wind, appearing to grow larger, then enormous. Rodolfo scoffs that what they’re depicting is just their blind credulity, but Amina and the innkeeper Lisa insist that it’s not a fairy tale nor fear – everyone has seen her, it’s true! Wherever she passes, a silence reigns that is frightening. No wind breathes nor do the plants move – even the brook seems to freeze and the dogs crouch down, lowering their eyes and not barking. Only the unclean owls scream from the dark valley. In spite of Rodolfo’s disbelief, the villagers pray that heaven may watch over him and overcome his carelessness. May heaven guard him!

I PURITANI

Bellini’s final opera was written for a commission, obtained with the help of Rossini, at the Théâtre Italien in Paris. Bellini and his long-time librettist Romani had had a falling out over their unsuccessful collaboration in Venice on Beatrice di Tenda, and Bellini turned to the exiled Italian revolutionary Carlo Pepoli for his next project. Pepoli based his libretto on a French play, Têtes Rondes et Cavalieres by Jacques-François Ancelot and Joseph Xavier Saintine. I Puritani is set in Plymouth, England in 1650, shortly after the execution of Charles I and during Cromwell’s rule. The protagonists Elvira and Arturo are on opposite sides of the continuing struggle, Elvira as the daughter of the Puritan governor and Arturo fighting on the side of the Stuart Cavaliers and attempting to liberate Charles I’s widow. At its premiere in Paris in 1835, it was an enormous success.

In the first act of the opera, Elvira’s father has relented in his plan to force Elvira to marry a Puritan captain, Riccardo, and permits her to marry her beloved Arturo. As the wedding is about to begin, the guests toast the event (“A festa!”) as every heart smiles with a song of their holy love. Any youth who sees Elvira, the beautiful young maiden, calls her his star, a queen of love. Her smile, her dear face, have a celestial beauty, like a rose on its stem, an angel from heaven. Let everyone sing of their holy love!

As the wedding guests celebrate and Elvira and Arturo prepare for the wedding, Riccardo is left alone to bemoan his fate. Bitterly disappointed that Elvira is not to marry him as promised, he wonders what he will do now, where he can go, without love or hope. Speaking as though Elvira were there with him, he says that he has lost her forever (“Ah! per sempre io ti perdei”), his flower of love, his hope. The life that now stretches before him will be full of grief. When he wandered year after year under the sway of fortune, he challenged calamity and worries in the hope of her love. Lovely, blessed dream of peace and contentment, either change his fate or change his heart. Oh, what torment on this day of sorrow, the sweet memory of a tender love.

NORMA

Norma is set in Gaul around the end of the first century BCE, among the Druids living in Gaul under the occupation of the Roman army. The title character is the daughter of the Archdruid Oroveso and the high priestess of the Druidic cult. Unknown to all but her servant, Norma is in love with the Roman Proconsul Pollione and has borne two children by him – a double crime since she has not only consorted with the enemy, but lost the virginity obligatory for her position. Norma has held back from allowing the Druids to rebel against the Romans, but Pollione has abandoned her for Adalgisa, one of Norma’s priestesses. In her rage, Norma gives the order to attack and says that Pollione will be their sacrificial victim in the sacred war rites. However, rather than renounce his love for Adalgisa, Pollione willingly accepts his death. Impressed by his courage and nobly unwilling to falsely accuse Adalgisa of treason, Norma admits her crimes to her people and demands that she be put to death along with Pollione. Pollione’s love for her is rekindled as they prepare to climb their funeral pyre together.

Felice Romani wrote the libretto in two acts based on an 1831 French tragedy of the same name by Louis Alexandre Soumet. At its opening at La Scala in Milan in 1831 (only nine months after the premiere of La sonnambula), it did not achieve the instant acclaim heaped on Il pirata, I Capuletti e I Montecchi, and La sonnambula, but soon was recognized in Italy and abroad for its genius and has become Bellini’s most admired and frequently produced work.

In the first scene of the opera, Oroveso, the head of the Druids in Gaul, has gathered Druid priests and warriors together in the sacred forest to await the arrival of their high priestess Norma, whom they hope will give the signal to attack the occupying Roman army upon the rising of the moon. They pray that their terrible god will stir Norma with his prophetic spirit (“Dell’aura tua profetica”). They pray to their sacred entity Irminsul to inspire her with hatred and anger for the Romans, that they can shatter the current peace that is fatal to them. Oroveso counsels them that their god will speak terrifyingly from the ancient oaks and free them from their Roman enemies. The sound of his shield like the crash of thunder will resound fearfully in the city of the Caesars. They pray to the moon to hasten its rise so that Norma will approach the altar.

In Scene 2, the Roman proconsul Pollione and his friend Flavio emerge from hiding from the Druid soldiers. Knowing the secret of Pollione’s relationship with Norma and their two children, Flavio is shocked to learn that Pollione’s love for Norma has died. Flavio intuits that Pollione has fallen in love with someone else, and the proconsul shamefacedly admits that he loves the innocent Adalgisa, a priestess in Norma’s temple. Asked if he doesn’t fear Norma’s wrath, Pollione recounts a fearful dream he has had of their hoped-for wedding. Adalgisa was with him at the altar of Venus in Rome (“Meco all’altar”) girdled in pure white with flowers in her hair. Listening to the hymn of the marriage goddess Hymen and inhaling the incense, she was enraptured by sensuousness and love. Suddenly between them came a terrible shadow – a Druidic mantle shrouded her like smoke and lightning struck the altar. The day was veiled in darkness, silent as a horrible tomb. The adored maiden was no longer at his side and from far away he heard a groan mixed with the crying of his children. And then a horrible voice echoed in the depths of the temple: “Thus Norma wreaks havoc on her treacherous lover.” 

Flavio hears the Druids approaching and says that Norma is coming from the temple to perform her rites. The Druid priests announce that the moon has risen and all heathens must leave. Flavio urges Pollione to flee with him, but the furious Pollione excoriates the Druids as barbarians and vows to prevent their plans. A power greater than theirs protects and defends him (Me protegge.”) It is the power of her that he adores – it is love that inflames him. He will burn the wicked forests of the god who contends with him for his heavenly maiden and demolish his wicked altar! 

Flavio drags Pollione from the woods as the Druids approach. They announce that Norma is coming (“Norma viene”), her hair bound with the mystic verbena. In her hand like a crescent moon shines the golden scythe. She is coming, and the frightened star of Rome covers itself with a veil. Irminsul flies across the fields of heaven, the comet a portent of horror. 

Norma is incensed that the Druids, led by her father Oroveso, dare to question her delaying them from attacking the Romans. She tells them that fatal hour will be decreed by their god, and her sacred auguries warn that the time has not arrived. She cuts the sacred mistletoe and addresses the moon, the chaste goddess (“Casta Diva”) who casts a silver light on the sacred, ancient trees, and asks the moon to turn her beautiful countenance to them, unclouded and unveiled. The Druids join in her prayer, and she goes on to ask the goddess to temper the inflamed hearts and bold zeal of her people, and to spread on earth the peace that the goddess makes reign in heaven. Norma proclaims the holy rites finished. Let the sacred woods be free of unbelievers. When their dark and angry god shall demand the blood of the Romans, Norma’s voice will thunder forth from the Druidic temple. Her acolytes say to let it thunder, and not let a single one of the impious flee from their righteous slaughter. And the first of them to fall on their path shall be the Proconsul. 

Norma replies that Pollione will fall, but to herself admits that her heart will never let her punish him. She wishes that the beauty of their first true love would return to her (“Ah! Bello a me ritorno.”) Against the entire world she would be his defense. Return the beauty of that radiance and peace and she will find in his bosom life, fatherland, and heaven. Unheeding of her conflict, the Druids say their day of revenge may come slowly, but a wrathful god should make haste to condemn the Romans.

In the second act of Norma, the Druid warriors have gathered in the forest to await their leader Oroveso and news of the Romans’ plans. They have already heard that Pollione is to leave Gaul to return to Rome and hope to receive the signal to attack. Conferring among themselves, they ask whether Pollione has left (“Non parti?”). Others reply that everything suggests he is still in the camp – the fierce chanting, the crash of arms, the fluttering banners. They agree it’s only a brief hindrance and shouldn’t trouble or impede them: they will wait. They will wait. In silence their hearts will prepare to consummate their great deed.

Adalgisa has tried in vain to persuade Pollione to return to Norma and their children, but he has vowed to seize Adalgisa and carry her off to Rome. Enraged by his loss, Norma summons the Druids and says it is time to attack. Pollione is captured while trying to abduct Adalgisa and Norma says that he will be the sacrificial victim necessary to initiate their rites before the attack. Norma orders the Druids to leave her alone to question Pollione so she can discover which of the priestesses has betrayed them. She offers to spare Pollione’s life if he will renounce Adalgisa, but he refuses. It is only when she threatens to expose Adalgisa and he begs that only he be executed that Norma realizes her power over him: her power to execute Adalgisa.

In the Finale to the opera, she summons the Druids and announces that she must reveal a new victim to appease their wrath – a perjured priestess who has broken her sacred vows, betrayed their fatherland, and offended the god of their ancestors. The Druids are appalled at this crime and demand to know who it is as Norma tells them to prepare the pyre. Pollione begs Norma for mercy as the Druids demand she reveal the traitor. 

Norma realizes that she, so guilty herself, cannot accuse the innocent priestess of her own fault. She says that the guilty one is she, Norma, and her acolytes are shocked. She again orders them to build the pyre and the Druids are frozen with horror. Pollione is stunned and tells them not to believe her. As the Druids cry out at her disgrace, Norma turns to Pollione and tells him to see what a heart he betrayed and lost (“Qual cor tradisti”). In vain he tried to flee from her, but now the cruel Roman is with her. A god, a fate stronger than he wills them united in life and death. She will be with him on the same pyre that consumes them, and then in the earth. Pollione says he now recognizes too late what a sublime woman he has lost in her. In his remorse, love is reborn, more desperate and ferocious than before. Ah, yes, let them die together. His last word will be that he loves her, but in dying, Norma must not hate him. He begs her to forgive him before they die.

The Druids beg her to return to herself and reassure them and her white-haired father – say that she was delirious, that she lied, that her words are irrational. Their stern god hears her but remains mute and withholds his thunder. This is a sign, an obvious sign, that he will not punish even such an extreme crime. Norma and Pollione are wretched at the thought of their children, while the Druids beg her to exculpate herself – why is she silent? Does she even hear them? Is she really guilty? She must speak! When she replies that she is guilty, beyond all humanity, they finally call her wicked and her father orders her away. 

As he bewails his sorrow, Norma begs Oroveso to hear her: she is a mother. Her friend Clotilde has her children, and she begs him to save them from the barbarians. Oroveso and the other Druids are even more horrified and Oroveso orders her to leave forever, but Norma pleads with him not to let them be the victims of her fatal error, not to cut them down in their innocent youth. He must remember that she is of his blood and have mercy on them. Oroveso and the Druids are overcome with grief, and Norma says their tears tell her that they will save the children. She is happy, content to ascend the pyre. Oroveso gives her his promise, and Pollione says that on their mutual pyre will begin their eternal love. The Druids pray that her sacrifice will purge the altar and cleanse the temple as she bids a final farewell to her weeping father.

PAGLIACCI

Opera verismo – “truthful” opera – developed during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Diametrically opposed to the Romantic movement, verismo sought its subjects among the lives and language of common people, rather than royalty and historical figures, and was notable for its passionate intensity, showing the sordid and brutal and playing upon the emotions in swift, often violent, action. Among the seminal works of opera verismo in Italy is Pagliacci.

Born and trained in Naples in 1850, Ruggiero Leoncavallo studied composition in Naples, then literature at the University of Bologna, which aroused an interest in music coupled with drama, particularly as exemplified by Wagner. He struggled to survive by giving voice and piano lessons and accompanying singers in cafés all over Europe while he tried to establish himself as an opera composer. Finally, with Pagliacci, for which he wrote the libretto himself as he did for most of his works, he became internationally famous at the age of 42. Its Milan premiere in 1892 was quickly succeeded by productions in London and New York the following year. Sued for plagiarism over Pagliacci by another author, he successfully defended himself with his testimony that the story was based on an actual case of murder that took place in a theatrical touring company in Calabria. (As a child, he attended the trial, over which his father presided as judge, of a jealous actor who killed his wife after a performance.) Although he wrote a number of other operas and operettas that were successful at the time, and several arias from those works remain popular, Pagliacci is his only work that continues to be a standard part of the opera repertoire. Leoncavallo became an early adopter of the gramophone and its potential, and in 1907 he directed a recording of Pagliacci, which became the first Italian opera to be commercially recorded in its entirety.

Pagliacci literally means “clowns” and refers to traveling theatrical players in a commedia troupe. They arrive in a village in Calabria for the August Feast of the Assumption in the 1860’s. The leading player of the company, Canio, discovers that his wife Nedda is in love with a young villager. In the course of a performance in which Canio plays a comical, cuckolded husband, the line between art and life blurs. Canio kills Nedda onstage, then her lover, before the eyes of the stunned audience.

In the Prologue, the clown Tonio appears before the curtain and asks for the audience’s indulgence (“Si può?”) He explains that the author wishes to revive the ancient theater custom of the prologue. However, he will not reassure them, as in the ancient dramas, that the tears that the actors shed are false. No, the author has tried instead to paint for them a fragment of life, for he is inspired by truth. A nest of memories sang in his soul one day, and he wrote with real tears punctuated by sighs. Thus the audience will see love as humans actually love, and the bitter fruit of hatred. They will hear the pangs of grief, howls of rage, and cynical laughter! Therefore, instead of seeing their poor actors’ clothes, the viewers should contemplate the actors’ souls, for they are flesh and blood and breathe the same air of the orphan world as the audience does. 

In the first scene, the villagers are excited that the troupe has arrived (“Son qua!”). They’ve returned and everyone follows them into town, the old and the young, everyone applauds them and their witty quips! Oh, that one’s very serious, bowing as he passes and beating on his great drum. The urchins shriek and throw their caps in the air. And here comes the wagon! Hooray for the prince of clowns! He drives away their cares with humor, but blessed Lord, what an uproar. When does the show start? Canio attempts to quiet the crowd and finally they agree to listen quietly. Canio announces that there will be a great show at 11 o’clock prepared by him, their humble servant.

Following the arrival of the commedia troupe in the town and the players’ lively appeal to come to the performance that evening, the excited villagers hear the sound of the bagpipers (“I zampognari”) from another town who have arrived to join them in the celebration. Friends call to each other to hurry to church while the older people comment approvingly on the crowd joyfully walking there. The church bells are calling them to the Lord, and they begin to echo the bells calling them to vespers (“Din, don, suona vespero”) as the young people hasten in pairs to the church while the sun kisses the hilltop. The young ladies warn that their mothers are observing them and their companions need to watch out! Everything is radiating with light and love, but the young men caution each other that the old folks are keeping a close eye on the bold lovers. 

Tonio, one of the other clowns in the troupe, has returned from the tavern to approach Nedda while she is alone and declare his love for her. Nedda first laughs at him and, when he tries to force himself on her, strikes him in the face with a whip and drives him off. After Tonio has left, vowing to revenge himself on her, the young villager Silvio appears and calls to her softly. Nedda is surprised at his recklessness at such a time (“Silvio! A quest’ora”), and Silvio replies that he saw her husband Canio and the others at the tavern, so came cautiously through the woods. Nedda is still upset about Tonio and says that she turned away his assault with a whip. Silvio asks if she will live forever with her fear and begs her to decide his destiny and remain with him. The troupe will leave tomorrow – and when she has gone away, what will become of him and his life? If it’s true that she’s never loved Canio and detests her wandering profession…if her great love for him isn’t a fairy tale, then let them go away together that night! Nedda pleads with him not to tempt her. Does he want to ruin her life? It’s madness! She has trusted him, she’s given him her heart, he shouldn’t take advantage of her feverish love. He should pity her, and perhaps it’s better if they part. Fate stands against them, and their words are in vain. And yet she can’t tear him from her heart – she will live only on the love he’s aroused there. Silvio exclaims that she no longer loves him, and she swears that she does. He asks if she will leave with them tomorrow – if she can leave him without pity, why has she bewitched him? Why has she kissed him so ardently? If she can forget those fleeting hours, he cannot. He still desires those burning kisses which set his heart on fire. Nedda admits she has forgotten nothing; she has been turned upside down by her love. She wants to live bound to him, enchanted, a life of calm and tranquil love. She gives herself to him, and he will rule her. She will take him and abandon herself completely. They swear they will forget everything as they declare their love to each other with a kiss. Silvio says to meet at midnight, and Nedda replies that she will then be his forever.

SILVANO

Pietro Mascagni was born in Livorno in 1863 and exhibited a talent for composition at an early age, beginning his first opera when he was only thirteen. Although mostly known for his operas, he also composed choral music, songs, and a range of orchestral pieces, several performed even before his brief studies at the Milan Conservatory. He continued to compose while he worked as a conductor for operetta companies in Italy as well as teaching. His winning entry of Cavalleria rusticana in a one-act opera contest in 1889 and its stunning success at its premiere in Rome in 1890 brought him international fame within a year, including its debut in Budapest conducted by Gustav Mahler. Although now best known for Cavalleria, others of his thirteen operas including L’amico Fritz and Iris continue to be performed. Mascagni was highly popular during his long career as a composer, a conductor, and a director of important music conservatories – not only in Europe but on extensive tours in North and South America.

Silvano is a “seafaring drama” (“drama marinaresco”) in two acts with a libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti based on a French novel. Premiered in 1895 at Milan’s La Scala, it is rarely performed today, although its barcarolle was notably used in the Martin Scorsese film Raging Bull. A tale of a triangle of love and jealousy set in a small Italian fishing village, the opera opens on the village square as the water carriers fervently hope that the sailors (“O marinai”), whose last boat has left the shore, can rely on the waves. Let hope smile upon them so that at daybreak they may return loaded with fish. When they throw the nets into the sea in the dark of the night, the women urge the men to think of them with a joyful peace, their eyes fixed on a star, and to sing their most beautiful sea-chanty!

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

Pietro Mascagni composed Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) in eight days when he was only twenty-six. He based it on an 1880 short story and play of the same name (Eleonora Duse scored a success as Santuzza in the play) by the popular Sicilian writer Giovanni Verga (one of the leading exponents of the verismo movement). Set to a libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, the opera was an immediate success following its premiere in Rome in 1890. Within the space of 18 months, it had been performed in most of the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas.

Before the opera begins, a young soldier, Turiddu, has returned to his village in Sicily to discover that his former love, Lola, has married Alfio, the prosperous village carter. Turiddu then became involved with Santuzza, whom he has promised to marry. However, he takes up with Lola again, and Santuzza, feeling herself betrayed, reveals Lola’s affair with Turiddu to Alfio, who challenges Turiddu to a duel. After entrusting the care of Santuzza to his mother, Turiddu dies in the conflict.

The one-act opera takes place on Easter Sunday in the early 1880’s in a Sicilian village square in front of the church. The women sing of the sweet smell of oranges (“Gli aranci olezzano”) and the singing of the larks in the flowering myrtles. Now time murmurs to everyone the tender song that quickens the beat of every heart. The men return from the fields of golden corn, where the sounds of the spinning wheels came to them. Resting, weary from their work, they thought of the women’s sun-filled eyes and rushed back to them as a bird returns to its nest. The women say that it’s time to cease their rustic work; the Virgin rejoices in their Savior.

To the sound of cracking whips and horse bells, the carter Alfio enters the square and exults in his carefree life. His horse paws the ground (“Il cavallo scalpita”), its collar jingles, and he cracks the whip. Let the colds winds blow, let the rain or snow fall, he doesn’t care. The villagers agree. What a fine job he has being a carter, roaming here and there! Alfio says that waiting for him at home is Lola, who loves and consoles him, who is fidelity itself. It’s Easter and he’s home! 

After Mass, the villagers drift out of church. They bid farewell to their friends as they turn toward home (“A casa, a casa, amici”) where their spouses await them. Turiddu, unaware that Santuzza has betrayed him to Alfio, invites Lola and his neighbors to his mother’s tavern and raises the first toast. Hurrah for the foaming wine (“Viva il vino spumeggiante”) that sparkles in the glass like the laugh of a lover and inspires joy. Hurrah for wine, which is honest and lightens every thought, which drowns every black humor in gentle exhilaration! Turiddu, Lola, and the villagers join in repeated toasts. To your lovers! To your good fortune! Let’s drink! Another round! 

After a bitter scene of recrimination in which Turiddu rejects Santuzza’s pleas to abandon Lola and reunite with her, Santuzza spitefully reveals his affair with Lola to Alfio, who vows that he’ll have revenge on them both. In a scene of calm following the storm, the village square is peaceful and deserted during Mascagni’s famous interlude Intermezzo.

Alfio has confronted Turiddu and they agree to a duel. Alfio goes to prepare himself and Turiddu turns to his mother before going to meet Alfio. Saying that her wine is full-bodied (“Mamma, quell vino è generoso”) and he’s certainly had too much of it, he’s going outside in the open air. But first he asks her for her blessing, as on the day he left to be a soldier. And then…Mamma, listen – if he doesn’t return…she must promise him that she’ll be a mother to Santuzza, whom he has sworn to lead to the altar. Ah, it’s nothing! It’s the wine that has prompted him to this! She must pray for him to God. One kiss, mamma, one more kiss, and farewell!

As the villagers leave the square for Easter Mass, we hear the chorus inside the church singing “Regina Coeli, laetare” (“Queen of Heaven, Rejoice”). Santuzza remains behind, not daring to enter the church. (Although not made explicit in the opera, the original short story makes clear that Santuzza is carrying Turiddu’s child, and therefore feels she cannot attend Mass with the others.) She joins the other villagers as they raise their voices. Let us rejoice that our Lord is not dead (“Inneggiamo al signor non è morto”). Resplendent, he has opened the tomb and today has risen to the glory of heaven.

PROGRAM NOTES BY TONY ARN