Pietro Mascagni: Zanetto (1896)

Opera in one act. Running Time: 45 minutes.

I needed something lite after all these heavy tragedies. This is a short work which premiered before Iris, almost three years before, but it was the opera immediately before it in the Mascagni ouvreur. It is based on a play by François Coppée entitled Le passant. 

SETTING: The Tuscan Countryside, Renaissance. Silvia (soprano) is the owner of an auberge and has been met with many suitors (who apparently assume that she is actually a high class prosty). She is found by the minstrel Zanetto (contralto) who falls in love with Silvia (as a sister, not a lover) which angers Silvia. Although he claims that he is searching for the beautiful, progressive Silvia, she tells him to follow towards the dawn. He leaves, she commits suicide. 



0: The prelude depicts the rolling hills of Tuscany rather picturesquely *.

4: Maledetto Amore! Silvia bemoans her loveless life *.

7: Cuore, come un fiore The sad song of Zanetto **. Silvia is entranced by this song. He comes on, sings a little bit, and falls asleep on a bench. Silvia falls in love with this young man.

13: Sono Zanetto The encounter begins, and Zanetto goes into some description about who he is (struggling minstrel I, often starving) ** with interjections from the somewhat horny Silvia (who realizes that the boy is really just a child). Eventually, he admits to being driven by a dream.

22: Io qui potrei forse restare Zanetto feels that he could be persuaded to stay with Silvia, but as her brother **.

25: Come il core mi sussulta But Silvia responds (to herself only) that she would rather have more **. Zanetto asks to stay with her, but Silvia refuses, saying that she is a poor widow, unable to keep him.

27: Poi che vani Zanetto reveals that he searches for Silvia *.

32: Senti bambino She warns him to abandon his search ** for Silvia is not worthy and he is but a boy.

34: Tu non puoi figurarti **.

37: No, certo, e quest anello He decides to go, but not before Silvia (who he still thinks is a poor widow) a flower which has been in her hair all this time **. She parts with it. She points him towards the dawn and he goes, repeating his sad song from earlier in the distance. She blesses love, but also mourns her fate.


The casting of Romina Basso, a contralto who specializes in Baroque music, is excellent as it adds to the traces of Monteverdi and Vivaldi which pop up throughout the score. Designed as a curtain-riser for Cavalleria Rusticana, the story is simple, and focused on Silvia, or rather it is her reaction to Zanetto which drives the plot. Zanetto himself is rather distant, even a little daft, while the emotions of Silvia are immediate and we are meant to sympathize with her. There is a recurring theme (or modulation) in the responses of Silvia for Zanetto, which borders into Massenet. The effect is intimate and slight. In terms of performance history it has survived in Italy, and gets occasional, if muted, productions in the United States and England. Its reception at both La Scala (1896) and the Met (1902) were both lukewarm. However, considering how minor a work it is, it does seem to get around a lot, what with its six recordings and comparatively frequent performances. It is a mild curtain riser for my birthday review in ten days.

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