Personalities | Pietro Mascagni | Turn of the Century | Opera
Mascagni was a precocious talent and surprised nobody by disobeying his father’s wishes and pursuing musical studies at the Milan Conservatory. There he shared a room with Puccini, to whom he would remain close throughout his life, but he was not inclined to study and soon left to tour Italy as a conductor with various companies. He settled in Cerignola, Apulia, in 1886. He began work on a number of projects but abandoned them all to enter the Sonzogno competition in 1888. The work entered was Cavalleria rusticana. Not only did it win the competition, but within a few months of its premiere at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome it had been heard in almost every major European city. In setting the work in a scene familiar to all Italians rather than the fashionable orient, and in creating characters distinguished by their lack of material wealth in comparison to their powerful emotional states, Mascagni established a precedent that was to carry Italian opera to new heights. Cavalleria rusticana’s prime virtues are its strong melodic vitality and its fluid dramatic and musical canvas that enables the raw and often violent emotions of its protagonists to be laid bare.
Mascagni, in spite of his wide-ranging skills, never managed to repeat the success of Cavalleria rusticana. He lacked the innovative instinct of his Milan classmate Puccini and was unwilling to grasp the radical musical transformations taking place in his later life. The flicker of fame was momentarily fanned during the Fascist regime but Mascagni ultimately died a quiet death in 1945.
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