Opera’s one hit won­der

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QUES­TION In the run-up to the Six Na­tions Rugby on Fe­bru­ary 4, there was a piece of clas­si­cal mu­sic play­ing as the fans came up on screen. What was it?

ThIS was the in­ter­mezzo from the cav­al­le­ria rus­ti­cana by Pi­etro Mascagni.

In July 1888, Mascagni learned that Mi­lanese mu­sic pub­lisher edoardo Son­zogno was spon­sor­ing a one-act opera com­pe­ti­tion, of­fer­ing a sub­stan­tial prize. The best three op­eras would be staged in rome at Son­zogno’s ex­pense.

Mascagni adapted a pop­u­lar pas­sion­ate easter morn­ing love tragedy by Gio­vanni Verga. It took him two months, then he sent it to his friend Gi­a­como Puc­cini, who told him it didn’t have a chance of win­ning. Fear­ing fail­ure, he put it in a drawer where it would have re­mained had his wife not se­cretly mailed it to Son­zogno.

In all, 73 op­eras were sub­mit­ted, and on March 5, 1890, the judges se­lected the fi­nal three: nic­cola Spinelli’s La­bilia, Vin­cenzo Fer­roni’s rudello, and Mascagni’s cav­al­le­ria rus­ti­cana.

cav­al­le­ria rus­ti­cana, with its stir­ring melodies, in­clud­ing the fa­mous easter hymn, and tightly con­structed plot, was unan­i­mously voted the winner.

On May 17, 1890, it had its pre­miere in rome where it re­ceived more than 40 cur­tain calls; in less than a year it had been per­formed all over europe.

The opera made both Son­zogno and Mascagni’s for­tunes. It was one of the tragedies of Mascagni’s ca­reer that, al­though he wrote 15 other op­eras, none came close to match­ing the suc­cess of cav­al­le­ria rus­ti­cana. ‘It is a pity I wrote cav­al­le­ria first,’ he said, ‘for I was crowned be­fore I be­came king.’

Tina Bayer, Har­ro­gate, North Yorks.

QUES­TION Lack of vi­ta­min D is a cur­rent health con­cern and we are told its main source is sun­light. You can­not get a tan through glass, but does sun­light through glass stim­u­late vi­ta­min D pro­duc­tion in the body?

The vi­ta­min D cre­ated in the skin by sun­light is an im­por­tant source — but not

the only one. UV from sun­light is con­ven­tion­ally bro­ken down into three wave­bands: UVA, with longer wave­lengths from 400nm (nanome­tres) to 320nm; UVB from 320nm to 290nm; and the very short UVc from 290nm to 100nm.

The shorter the wave­length, the more en­er­getic — and dan­ger­ous — the light (an es­sen­tial part of quan­tum the­ory, by the way).

UVc is there­fore very dan­ger­ous but, for­tu­nately, is blocked by the earth’s ozone layer. The worry about the hole in the ozone layer in the South­ern hemi­sphere was that UVc might prove haz­ardous to life there.

UVA is quite gen­tle and pro­vides much of the en­ergy that al­lows plants to grow. UVB is the band en­er­getic enough to cause sun­burn and vi­ta­min D pro­duc­tion, but it is blocked by win­dow glass which stops any wave­length shorter than 300nm. So Vi­ta­min D can’t be pro­duced in­doors through glass. Keith Matthews, M.Inst.P.,

Fern­down, Dorset,

QUES­TION How many House of Com­mons speak­ers have lost their heads?

SeVen speak­ers were ex­e­cuted by be­head­ing be­tween 1394 and 1535 — none while in of­fice.

In that era, Par­lia­ment sat only when sum­moned by the crown. In the 24 years of henry VII’s reign, for ex­am­ple, seven Par­lia­ments sat for a to­tal of only 25 weeks.

Sir John Bussy (died 1399) was Speaker of the house of com­mons from 1394-1398 and an agent of richard II. he played a large part in de­stroy­ing the Lords

Ap­pel­lant in the re­venge Par­lia­ment in 1397 and took his share of the spoils.

When John of Gaunt’s son henry Bol­ing­broke (sub­se­quently henry IV) in­vaded eng­land, he or­dered the ar­rest of Bussy who, along with Sir henry Green and the earl of Wilt­shire, went into hid­ing. They were cap­tured and be­headed on July 29, 1399.

Sir Thomas Thorpe (died 1461) was Speaker from March 1453 un­til Fe­bru­ary 1454. A prom­i­nent sup­porter of henry VI, he was taken pris­oner at the Bat­tle of northampton (1460) dur­ing the Wars of the roses. he es­caped but was re­cap­tured and sent to the Tower.

he es­caped a se­cond time, but on Fe­bru­ary 17, 1461, was caught in har­ringay by a London mob and sum­mar­ily be­headed.

Sir Thomas Tre­sham (died 1471) was Speaker in 1459. An­other Lan­cas­trian sup­porter of henry VI, he was cap­tured af­ter the Bat­tle of Bar­net, a de­ci­sive Wars of the roses en­gage­ment, and was be­headed on May 6, 1471.

Sir Wil­liam catesby (died 1485) was one of richard III’s prin­ci­pal coun­cil­lors. he was Speaker in Jan­uary/Fe­bru­ary 1484 and fought along­side richard at the Bat­tle of Bos­worth on Au­gust 22, 1485. he was cap­tured and be­headed three days later at Le­ices­ter.

Sir richard emp­son and ed­mund Dud­ley (both died 1510) were prom­i­nent mem­bers of henry VII’s court. emp­son was Speaker from 1491-1492 and Dud­ley in 1504.

Both were much loathed for car­ry­ing out the King’s rig­or­ous and ar­bi­trary sys­tem of tax­a­tion. When henry VIII came to the throne, he had emp­son and Dud­ley ar­rested on trumped up charges of em­bez­zle­ment and they were pub­licly be­headed on Au­gust 17, 1510.

Sir Thomas More (died 1535) was Speaker from April to Au­gust 1523. Af­ter car­di­nal Wolsey fell, More suc­ceeded to the of­fice of Lord chan­cel­lor in 1529.

he op­posed the King’s sep­a­ra­tion from the ro­man church, re­fus­ing to ac­knowl­edge henry as supreme head of the church of eng­land and the an­nul­ment of his mar­riage to cather­ine of Aragon. he was con­victed of trea­son and be­headed.

Len Cope, Hunt­ing­don.

IS THERE a ques­tion to which you have al­ways wanted to know the an­swer? Or do you know the an­swer to a ques­tion raised here? Send your ques­tions and an­swers to: Charles Legge, An­swers To Cor­re­spon­dents, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT; fax them to 01952 780111 or email them to charles.legge@dai­ly­mail.co.uk. A se­lec­tion will be pub­lished but we are not able to en­ter into in­di­vid­ual cor­re­spon­dence.

Forty cur­tain calls: Pi­etro Mascagni

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