Out Sept. 16 on CSO Resound: Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria rusticana’

Riccardo Muti conducts Mascagni’s "Cavalleria rusticana" with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and an all-star cast of soloists, including mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili as Santuzza in February 2020.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

The next release on the CSO Resound label will be the opera Cavalleria rusticana, recorded live with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Riccardo Muti, and an international cast of vocal soloists. 

The recording, which will be released Sept. 16 in digital formats, is available now for pre-order at online retail outlets, including symphonystore.com. A physical release is scheduled for later this year at retailers worldwide.
Muti's 11th recording with the CSO as its music director, the recording also marks the first CSO Resound release in Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, an immersive sound format. 

Written by 19th-century Italian composer Pietro Mascagni, Cavalleria rusticana is one of the most famous examples of verismo opera. The CSO Resound release captures February 2020 performances in Orchestra Hall, with acclaimed soloists such as tenor Piero Pretti, in his CSO debut, as Turiddu; mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, hailed by Muti as “the greatest mezzo-soprano of today,” as Santuzza; baritone Luca Salsi as Alfio; mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller as Lucia, Alfio’s mother; mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke as Lola, Alfio’s wife, and Alessandra Visconti as a villager. Duain Wolfe, who retired earlier this year as chorus director, prepared the Chicago Symphony Chorus. 

Recognized as today’s pre-eminent interpreter of works by Giuseppe Verdi, Muti has led the CSO in acclaimed concert performances of the composer’s Aida, Falstaff, Macbeth, Otello, Un ballo in maschera and Messa da Requiem since becoming music director in 2010. The 2020 concerts reunited the CSO with Mascagni’s landmark score for its first complete performance of the opera since 1931. The opera’s famous Intermezzo was programmed by founding music director Theodore Thomas for the orchestra’s second-ever program on Oct. 19, 1891.

Cavalleria rusticana, which translates as “rustic chivalry,” is a one-act opera based on a play by Giovanni Verga, recognized as one of the most significant writers of Italian realism. He and Mascagni were part of the 19th-century verismo (“truth”) artistic movement. The story unfolds on Easter Sunday in a Sicilian village as passions flare among Santuzza and Turiddu, who has left her for the married Lola, as Lola’s husband, Alfio, vows vengeance. Filled with orchestral color and beauty, the Intermezzo offers one of the opera’s few moments of respite from the intense drama. The work’s powerful and often turbulent emotional atmosphere is reflected in memorable arias and stunning ensemble passages, such as the Easter Hymn with full chorus and orchestra and Santuzza’s soaring plea to heaven.

Reflecting on the performance of Cavalleria rusticana, Muti said in a 2020 interview, “Mascagni was a wonderful composer, and this is a great opera, written in a very good instrumentation. Cavalleria rusticana requires a certain knowledge of the culture of Sicily and southern Italy. There are elements of the opera that are full of blood and full of passion, yet it is never vulgar. It retains a dignity and a sense of honor, always.”   

Of this performance of Cavalleria rusticana, Opera News declared, “Muti’s forces provided all the passion imaginable, yet never descended into sensation or vulgarity. This was the most beautiful orchestral performance in memory of Mascagni’s seminal score.”  

The Chicago Tribune called the performance “hair-raising and exquisite,” while the Chicago Sun-Times said that the “CSO, Riccardo Muti and soloists triumph ... an utterly superlative offering in every way.” WTTW.com added that Muti was “in top form [and] is not just a conductor here, but every bit the director ... magic.”

Cavelleria rusticana was produced, edited and mixed by CSO audio engineer Charlie Post, and mastered by Silas Brown of Legacy Sound. Post received his first Grammy Award as part of a group of engineers including David Frost and Silas Brown for the CSO Resound recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar). Post has also recorded other CSO Resound projects, such as the 2018 release of “Riccardo Muti Conducts Italian Masterworks,” and the 2014 release of Prokofiev’s Suite from Romeo & Juliet.

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