Callas in Cavalleria rusticana

Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana was, as far as we know, the first complete operatic rôle that Maria Callas sang on stage—in April 1939, as a fifteen-year-old student in Athens. (As a schoolgirl in New York, she did sing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.)

Callas sang Santuzza’s big aria, “Voi lo sapete,” several times in Greece and during her 1973-74 concert tour with Giuseppe di Stefano.

Michael Scott, among others, claims to hear stark differences in Callas’s vocalism and general approach between this 1953 commercial set of Cavalleria, recorded when Callas had just begun losing weight, and her recording of Leoncavallo’s I pagliacci, set down about a year later when she was a sylph. Callas’s sound does seem darker and thicker in Cavalleria, though one could argue that the music and the rôle require an earthier timbre.

I’ll post material from Pagliacci aria later this week so that you can compare Callas’s performances. If you want to hear how Callas sang Cavalleria during her tour with di Stefano, there are many excerpts on YouTube, one sadder than the next.

I confess that I have avoided posting material from Cavalleria rusticana because I cannot abide this tawdry, bombastic opera. Giovanni Verga’s novella “Cavalleria rusticana” is a spare and devastating work, and I find that Mascagni’s opera preserves little of its flavor.

Worth noting: Gemma Bellincioni, the first Santuzza, also sang Violetta and Salome. (Verdi heard and admired her as Violetta some twenty years before the Cavalleria excerpt was recorded.)


  1. LOL. My favorite opera! Part of that is personal (early memory is my grandmother playing the Intermezzo on the piano) ... but, geez, I love it. Funny that Mascagni wrote it to win a contest. I think Callas' sound in the recorded set is close to perfect for her.

  2. LOL As Italians say, "Il mondo è bello perché è vario." I agree that she sounds terrific, but I do not hear the extreme deterioration in the "Pagliacci" noted by Scott.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. I haven't read Verga's novella yet (mea culpa...), but Cavalleria Rusticana is an opera that pleases me very much. The "Inneggiamo" always thrills my spine and the power of its music is absurd: last year I watched it with a poor and bizarre scenic direction, but the music (and the singers, which were excellent) saved everything.

    Did you know that a Brazilian composer called Murillo Furtado wrote a "sequel" to Cavalleria Rusticana? It's called Sandro - the rôle-titre is a brother of Turiddu who was in Marseille and returns to the village right after Turiddu is killed (although he just knew the facts after arriving). The music, the libretto and the plot are very interesting!