Though his break­through opera, Caval­le­ria

rus­ti­cana (pic­tured be­low) main­tained the by-then old-fash­ioned tra­di­tion of sep­a­rate num­bers – arias, en­sem­bles, cho­ruses – linked by recita­tive, in his sub­se­quent works Mascagni in­creas­ingly joined these up in an on­go­ing dra­matic con­tin­uum in a man­ner fa­mil­iar from Wag­ner and Verdi’s later works.


Par­al­lel to the dis­ap­pear­ance of set-piece arias in his later works came an ap­proach to in­di­vid­ual vo­cal lines that united el­e­ments of aria and recita­tive in a kind of con­stantly de­vel­op­ing ar­ioso, pro­duc­ing a more declam­a­tory ap­proach to vo­cal writ­ing that is rem­i­nis­cent of Mon­teverdi – though un­der­pinned by a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent har­monic and ac­com­pa­ni­men­tal ap­pa­ra­tus.


Even in Caval­le­ria (no­tably Al­fio’s en­trance aria), Mascagni shows a fond­ness for har­monies that move in un­usual di­rec­tions. This adds char­ac­ter to L’amico Fritz and Iris, while the grow­ing ten­dency gives some of his later works a free-flow­ing, al­most

dis­ori­ent­ing qual­ity.

Orches­tra and Cho­rus

His imag­i­na­tive writ­ing for orches­tra and vi­tal use of the cho­rus of­ten come to­gether to im­pres­sive ef­fect, pro­duc­ing show­pieces such as the ‘Hymn to the Sun’ that be­gins and ends Iris, as well as al­ter­nat­ing sub­tlety with over­whelm­ing power in Il pic­colo Marat and Is­abeau.

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