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
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.