Mascagni showed from his boyhood a remarkable musical talent, and began his studies with a fine Leghorn musician, Alfredo Soffredini. His father was a baker and dreamed of a career as a lawyer for his son, but following the good reception obtained by Mascagni’s first compositions was persuaded to allow him to study music at the Milan Conservatoire, where his teachers included Amilcare Ponchielli and Michele Saladino, and where he shared a furnished room with his fellow-student Giacomo Puccini. He was of a rebellious nature and intolerant of discipline, and in 1885 he left the Conservatoire to join a modest operetta company as conductor. He became part of the Compagnia Maresca and, together with his future wife, Lina Carbognani, settled in Cerignola (Apulia) in 1886, where he formed a symphony orchestra.

Here Mascagni composed at a single stroke, in only two months, the one-act opera Cavalleria rusticana, based on the short story by Verga, which was to win him the first prize in the Second Sonzogno Competition for new operas. The innovative strength of the opera and the resounding worldwide success which followed its first performance (1890, Teatro Costanzi, Rome) marked the beginning of an artistic life rich in achievements and satisfactions, both as composer and as conductor. Among his later compositions the Sonzogno catalogue still lists L’Amico Fritz, Guglielmo Ratcliff, Isabeau, Lodoletta, Le Maschere, Il Piccolo Marat, Silvano and Zanetto.

As a highly talented conductor with a much wider repertoire than is commonly believed, Mascagni was among the first to restore popularity in the Twentieth Century to operas by Mozart (Don Giovanni) and Rossini (Mosé, Semiramide), and to make known in Italy the music of Tchaikovsky and Dvorák.

Admired by such musicians as Verdi and Mahler and an authentic “star” of his time, of which he was recognised as one of the major protagonists, Mascagni died at the age of 82 in a room of the Hotel Plaza in Rome, where he had spent the last years of his life.

  • The second edition of the score of Cavalleria rusticana. On the cover are the first interpreters: Gemma Bellincioni and Roberto Stagno
  • The first edition of the score of Le Maschere (1901)
  • Poster by Giuseppe Palanti for the first Italian performance of Isabeau (1912, La Scala, Milan)
  • Some great interpreters of Cavalleria rusticana: Giulietta Simionato, Mario Del Monaco, Fiorenza Cossotto, José Cura and Violeta Urmana
  • Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni in L'amico Fritz