Music: Cavalleria's Crown

Pietro Mascagni had one flash of genius. He was 26, a penniless ex-conductor of a fourth-rate itinerant Italian opera company, when he heard of a prize contest for a new one-act opera. In eight feverish days and nights he wrote Cavalleria Rusticana, a fast-moving, lyric tale of love and murder in a Sicilian square at Eastertide. It won the prize, got its composer 40 curtain calls at its first performance in May 1890, and subsequently the Order of the Crown of Italy. In Manhattan, Oscar Hammerstein produced Cavalleria in English, and the Metropolitan...

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