Opera’s one hit wonder
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.,
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.
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Forty curtain calls: Pietro Mascagni