Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > Life of Pietro Mascagni (2)
Italian opera composer
Pietro Mascagni was born in Leghorn, Italy, December 7, 1863. His father was a baker. The elder Mascagni, ambitious for his boy, wanted him to study law. The son himself preferred music, and studied surreptitiously. An uncle, who sympathized with his aims, helped him financially. After the uncles death a nobleman, Count Florestan, sent him to the Milan Conservatory. There he came under the instruction and influence of Ponchielli.
After two years study at the conservatory he began a wandering life, officiating for the next five years as conductor of opera companies, most of which disbanded unexpectedly and impecuniously. He eked out a meager income, being compelled at one time to subsist on a plate of macaroni a day. His finances were not greatly improved when he settled in Cerignola, where he directed a school for orchestra players and taught pianoforte and theory.
He was married and in most straitened circumstances when he composed "Cavalleria Rusticana" and sent it off to the publisher Sonzogno, who had offered a prize for a one-act opera. It received the award.
May 17, 1890, at the Constanzi Theatre, Rome, it had its first performance. Before the representation had progressed very far, the half-filled house was in a state of excitement and enthusiasm bordering on hysteria. The production of "Cavalleria Rusticana" remains one of the sensational events in the history of opera. It made Mascagni famous in a night. Everywhere it was given-and to was given everywehere-it made the same sensational success. Its vogue was so great, it "took" so rapidly, that it was said to have infected the public with "Mascagnitis."
In "Cavalleria Rusticana" music and text work in wonderful harmony in the swift and gloomy tragedy. Nothing Mascagni has composed since has come within hailing distance of it. The list of his operas is a fairly long one. Most of them have been complete failures. In America, "Iris" has, since its production, been the subject of occasional revival. "Lodoletta," brought out by Gatti-Casazza at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1918, had the advantage of a cast that included Caruso and Farrar. "Isabeau" had its first performance in the United States of America, in Chicago by the Chicago Opera Company under the direction of Cleofante Campanini in 1917, and was given by the same organization in New York in 1918.
With Mascagnis opera, "Le Maschere" (The Maskers), which was produced in 1901, the curious experiments was made of having the first night occur simultaneously in six Italian cities. It was a failure in all, save Rome, where it survived for a short time.
Of the unfortunate results of Mascganis America visit in 1902 not much need be said. A "scratch" company was gotten together for him. With this he gave poor performances at the Metropolitan Opera House, of "Cavalleria Rusticana," "Zanetto," and "Iris." The tour ended in lawsuits and failure. "Zanetto," which is orchestrated only for string band and a harp, was brought out with "Cavalleria Rusticana" in a double bill, October 8, 1902; "Iris," October 16th.