A true music lover (male) is defined as a man who hears a girl singing in her bathtub and puts his ear to the keyhole. There were no bathtubs around to test this definition, but judging by the number of happy faces in the lobby at intermission there were a lot of music lovers in the audience at Pocket Opera this afternoon.
I say this because to my mind the music is the only thing that recommends Pietro Mascagni’s "Cavalleria Rusticana". Somerset Maugham’s statement that a good short story ”must have a beginning, a middle, and an end,” applies equally to one-act operas. Let’s see how "Cav", as it familiarly called, stacks up to this requirement.
The action all takes place within a single day so the “beginning” needs to include quite a bit of background information.
Two years ago, Turridu (Michael Imbimbo), a handsome young man went off to be a soldier. Before he left, his girlfriend Lola (Brieanne Martin) promised to wait for him to return. She didn’t. She married Alfio (Brad Kynard) a hard-working common carrier who treats her well and is very happy with the marriage. Turridu is bitter but consoles himself by having an affair with Santuzza (Kathleen Moss) who is madly in love with him. Somewhat later when the curtain goes up, T has gotten bored with S and has renewed his pursuit of L, S has been ostracized and excommunicated – her only friend in the village is T’s mother Mamma Lucia (Sonia Gariaeff), L has decided that having A for a husband and T for a lover is an ideal combination, and A is blissfully unaware of all of this and regards himself as happily married. Oh, and Mamma wishes T paid more attention to her.
About two-thirds of the opera’s 70 minutes has been used up describing this beginning situation. Santuzza appears to be the principal focus here – at least she has the most and best singing opportunities. The musical high point of the opera is when the chorus sings the powerful Easter Hymn with Santuzza’s sorrowful soprano soaring above them.
The only “middle” to the story is when S tells A about L and T, and A resolves to wreak vengeance on both of them and challenges T to “meet me in the orchard.” T has dim forebodings and asks Mamma to look after S and treat her as a daughter – which sort of implies that she is pregnant. He also gets half-drunk – great preparation for the muscular coordination and quick reactions needed in a fight with knives!
As for the “end”, a villager rushes on stage to announce that Turridu has been killed by Alfio. Mamma Lucia falls to the ground and the villagers all crowd around her. The orchestra plays its final chords and the curtain falls. We do not know:
(a) Is Mamma Lucia dead of shock or merely in a faint?
(b) Does Alfio also make good on his threat to kill Lola?
(c) Does the village punish Alfio or is his behavior allowable within the prevailing “code of honor”?
(d) How does Santuzza react to Turridu’s death and what becomes of her?
In addition, I did not find any of the 5 major characters very interesting or very sympathetic. Santuzza, of course, should be; she’s essentially a victim. But she is so whiny and self-centered. “I love you despite everything. Have pity on me. Take me back.” I could like her so much more if she asked Mamma Lucia, “What can I do to make him like me again?” Turridu’s deeds aren’t any worse than the Duke of Mantua or Pinkerton or countless other tenor roués, but the way he caves in at the end really turned me off. Alfio is almost like a stooge; he doesn’t seem to have any real character of his own. Nor does Mamma Lucia – she’s just there. In fact, the only person with any real character is Lola – and she has a very minor part in terms of being on stage and in musical opportunities.
And yet, despite all I’ve said above, I wish I could see it again next Sunday, May 22. I’m actually faced with an embarrassment of riches next Sunday: Pocket Opera doing a repeat of "Cav & Cat"; West Bay Opera doing a double bill of "Dido and Aeneas" & "La Vida Breve"; or an European HD performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company with As You Like It.
Which would you choose? But before you make that choice, be sure to read my next review, "The Cat Transformed into a Woman Review – The last of two one-act operas separated by one intermission and millions of emotional miles" which should appear right after this one.
The Opera Nut
Photos by Yen Bachmeier