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Cavalleria rusticana (1982)

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Yelena Obraztsova ...
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Renato Bruson ...
Fedora Barbieri ...
Mama Lucia
Axelle Gall ...
Lola
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Brilliant movie of a great opera
27 March 2015 | by (Upstate New York) – See all my reviews

Cavalleria Rusticana (1982) was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It's not a filmed opera--it's a movie made in a Sicilian village, which is true to the opera that we see in an opera house.

Cavalleria Rusticana ("Rustic Chivalry") was composed by Pietro Mascagni. The Wikipedia entry on this composer says it all: "His 1890 masterpiece Cavalleria rusticana caused one of the greatest sensations in opera history and single-handedly ushered in the Verismo movement in Italian dramatic music." Verismo opera isn't about kings and courtiers, or about great historical figures. It's about real people in real-life situations.

In this opera, the verismo subject is adultery. Not only adultery however, but adultery, seduction, and abandonment. If you don't know the opera, I'll give a brief summary. If you know opera, just skip this part.

Santuzza (sung by Yelena Obraztsova) is a young woman who is in love with Turiddu (Plácido Domingo). However, Turiddu has seduced and abandoned her. He is now having an adulterous affair with Lola (Axelle Gall). Lola's husband, Alfio (Renato Bruson), is a wagoner, so he's away for long periods, and is unaware of his wife's infidelity. It's interesting that Lola and Alfio have relatively small roles compared to Santuzza and Turiddu. In fact, Santuzza is one of the great mezzo-soprano roles in opera, although it is sometimes sung by sopranos as well. The rest of the action stems from this situation--a woman scorned, a husband betrayed.

Zefirelli is a genius. He filmed Cavalleria in a Sicilian village, and the village comes alive. You have to keep telling yourself that this is a Sicilian village that's populated by actors, not a Sicilian village celebrating Easter Sunday in 1890. (In fact, the Easter procession has a documentary quality to it. It's brilliant and profoundly moving.)

Naturally, the opera was not recorded in Sicily. It was recorded at La Scala Opera House in Milan. I'm not even sure that the "villagers" are actually the chorus members of La Scala, or whether they are local actors who are lip-synching.

However, the principal singers play themselves. Yelena Obraztsova was one of the great mezzo-sopranos of the 20th Century. She was known for her good acting as well as her singing. Obraztsova was made for the role of Santuzza, and Zefirelli brings out the best in her. And, of course, Domingo was one of the great tenors of the 20th Century, so the film has star-quality singing.

It will be a pleasure for you to watch this film, even if you don't particularly care for opera. If you love opera, you'll love Zeffirelli's version of Cavalleria. Don't miss it.

This is a movie that would work better on a large screen. However, we saw it on DVD, where it was still wonderful. It's packaged with another one-act opera--Pagliacci. These two operas are typically shown together in opera houses as well. Opera lovers call them "Cav and Pag." Usually they are shown with Cavalleria first, followed by Pagliacci. That's the order in which I would watch them if you are going to see them on DVD.


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