Zanetto is an opera in one act by Pietro Mascagni to an Italian libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci. It received its first performance on 2 March 1896 at the Liceo Musicale Rossini in Pesaro. Only 40 minutes long and with cast of two singers, Zanetto was originally described by its composer as a scena lirica (lyric scene) rather than an opera. It is set in the countryside near Florence during the Renaissance and tells the story of an encounter between a beautiful courtesan, Silvia, and a young wandering minstrel, Zanetto. The libretto was adapted from an Italian translation by Emilio Praga of François Coppée's play Le passant (The passer-by) in which the young Sarah Bernhardt had won fame in the en travesti role of Zanetto.

Opera by Pietro Mascagni
Locandina-Cavalleria rusticana-Zanetto.png
Cover of the souvenir libretto printed for the first New York performance 1902
2 March 1896 (1896-03-02)

Background and performance historyEdit

Zanetto represented a return by Mascagni to the one-act format of his first opera Cavalleria rusticana, which had premiered in 1890. However, the Renaissance setting of Zanetto was a far cry from the gritty contemporary story he used for Cavalleria rusticana, the work that made him famous. By 1893, Mascagni was simultaneously working on three operas: Vistilia, based on a novel by Rocco de Zerbi [it] set in ancient Rome;[1] Guglielmo Ratcliff, which he had first started composing in 1882;[2] and Zanetto, which his publisher, Edoardo Sonzogno, envisioned being performed in future double bills with Cavalleria.[3] Mascagni finally finished Zanetto in October 1895. It was premiered on 2 March 1896 as part of the annual celebrations in honour of Rossini's birthday at the Liceo Musicale Rossini in Pesaro, where Mascagni was now the director. Two of the conservatory's students, Maria Pizzagalli and Stefania Collamarini, sang the roles of Silvia and Zanetto.[4] The opera was then staged at La Scala on 18 March with the same cast. Although the opera had been enthusiastically received in Pesaro, the reception at La Scala was lukewarm. Edoardo Pompei, a music critic and early biographer of Mascagni, ascribed this to the slightness of the work which was magnified in large theatre such as La Scala accustomed to grandiose productions:

It would be as if one presented a miniature from a fourth-floor window and then expected the public to appreciate it from the street.[5]

Despite its reception at La Scala, the work was performed throughout Italy in smaller theatres during the year following its premiere. It was also performed in a private performance in London by the Ravogli sisters, Sofia and Giulia in 1896. Zanetto had its US premiere on 8 October 1902 at the old Metropolitan Opera House conducted by Mascagni with Elena Bianchini-Cappelli as Silvia and Eugenia Mantelli as Zanetto. As at La Scala, the reception was mixed. The New York Times critic pronounced the music as "sonorous, mellifluous, and melodious" and praised the performances of Bianchini-Cappelli and Mantelli, but concluded that "outside of Italy, Zanetto can never become more than a mild curtain-raiser".[6]

Premieres in other major Italian opera houses came rather sporadically: 1905 at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, 1913 at La Fenice in Venice, 1920 at the Teatro Regio in Turin, and 1940 at the Teatro Comunale in Florence.[7] More recently, the opera was performed at the New Jersey State Opera in 1988,[8] the Teatro Comunale in Florence in 1996 (with Sonia Ganassi as Zanetto),[9] the Teatro Astor in Savona in 2003, the Teatro Goldoni in Livorno in 2007,[10] and New York's Carnegie Hall in 2007 (in a concert performance with Jennifer Larmore as Zanetto).[11] A new production was staged during the summer of 2012 at Opera Holland Park in London, when it was paired with Gianni Schicchi by Puccini.

The setting of the 2003 performance in Savona (preserved on DVD) was updated to the 20th century, with an ending that deviated considerably from the original libretto. In the original after renouncing her love for young Zanetto and sending him away, Sylvia weeps alone as she watches him disappear in the distance. However, the Savona director, Beppe De Tomasi, had Sylvia pull out a pistol and shoot herself instead. A brief section of the final music in the scene had to be played twice to accompany the extra stage-business involved in Sylvia's suicide.[12]


Roles, voice types, premiere cast
Role Voice type[13] Premiere cast, 2 March 1896
Conductor: Pietro Mascagni
Silvia, a courtesan soprano Maria Pizzagalli
Zanetto, a young poet and minstrel contralto (en travesti) Stefania Collamarini


Setting: the Tuscan countryside during the Renaissance

The following synopsis was published in the souvenir libretto printed for the New York premiere of Zanetto in 1902:[14]

Silvia is the rich and beautiful hostess of a country hotel, who has been besieged by lovers of almost every description, she repulses them all, because although they may be well-to-do and even wealthy and powerful, they have not pleased her fancy or awakened her heart. At last she forswears love entirely, being convinced that her destiny is to remain single.

Still, she remembers a youth she once saw, and believes that he lives near by, in Florence, toward which city she idly looks out in the summer evening from the veranda of her hotel, placed on the side of a steep mountain.

As she looks she hears the voice of a roving minstrel who is approaching. She conceals herself. He comes near, and not venturing to enter the hotel, lies down to sleep on a bench. He is soon asleep; and Silvia comes near to see him. She recognizes in him her ideal; and at once loves him. She wakes him up, and he sees in her the madonna of his dreams.

He is fond of his freedom, and of his own way of living; but thinks it would be nice to have a home, and a sister. This does not suit Silvia; who then conceals her identity; and says that she is a widow, and very poor; and cannot possibly entertain a wandering poet. After several refusals, he tells her that he has heard of Silvia, who is also beautiful, as well as rich, and liberal. He asks his newly-beloved to help him find her. She advises him not to go, that she would do anything to save him from his danger. Although both love each other she is unwilling to let herself be known. He believes in her sincerity; and offers to go in any direction she may point out. She points toward the dawn; he dashes toward it; she watches him till out of sight; then burying her face in her hands exclaims:

"Blessed art thou, O Love! Now can I weep again!"


  • 1969 – Tito Petralia (conductor), Orchestra Sinfonica della RAI – Giuseppina Arista (Zanetto), Pia Malagrini (Silvia) – Live recording, Milan, 26 June 1969. Label: originally released on LP by MRF LP; reissued on CD by Nuova Era
  • 1986 – Mauro Ceccanti (conductor), Orchestra e Coro del Comitato Estate Livornese – Ambra Vespasiani (Zanetto), Rita Lantieri (Silvia) – Live recording, Livorno, Teatro di Villa Mimbelli, 30 July 1986. Label: Bongiovanni CD
  • 2003 – Bruno Aprea (conductor), Orchestra Sinfonica di Savona – Romina Basso (Zanetto), Denia Mazzola Gavazzeni (Silvia) – Live recording, November 2003, Teatro Astor, Savona. Label: Kicco Classic DVD
  • 2007 – Peter Tiboris (conductor), Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic – Jennifer Larmore ( Zanetto), Eilana Lappalainen (Silvia) – Studio recording, 2007. Label: Elysium Records CD
  • 2018 – Gil Rose (conductor), Odyssey Opera, Boston – Eve Gigliotti (Zanetto) Eleni Calenos (Silvia) – Studio recording, 2014[15]



  1. ^ Vistilia was never completed and much of it was later used by Mascagni in Nerone. See Mallach 2002, pp. 73–74
  2. ^ Stivender 1963.
  3. ^ Mallach 2002, p. 92.
  4. ^ Mallach 2002, p. 109.
  5. ^ Mallach 2002, p. 110.
  6. ^ The New York Times 1902, p. 8.
  7. ^ Casaglia 2005.
  8. ^ Holland 1988.
  9. ^ Pugliaro 1996, p. 82.
  10. ^ Pugliaro 2008, p. 106.
  11. ^ Gooding 2008.
  12. ^ Howell 2009.
  13. ^ Franchi 2007.
  14. ^ Zanetto and Cavalleria rusticana, F. Rullman, publisher, New York, 1902
  15. ^ Zanetto (2018 recording)


  • Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Zanetto, 2 March 1896". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).
  • Franchi, Susanna (2007). "Zanetto". In Gelli, Piero; Poletti, Filippo (eds.). Dizionario dell'Opera 2008. Baldini Castoldi Dalai. pp. 1413–1414. ISBN 88-6073-184-4. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  • Gooding, Wayne (June 2008). "Recording review: Zanetto (Elysium GRK 727)". Opera Canada. Retrieved 21 February 2010 – via Questia.
  • Howell, Christopher (February 2009). "Recording review: Zanetto (KCOU9005)". Musicweb International. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  • Holland, Bernard (12 October 1988). "2 Rareties in New Jersey". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  • Mallach, Alan (2002). Pietro Mascagni and His Operas. Northeastern University Press. pp. 153–154. ISBN 1-55553-524-0.
  • The New York Times, "Mascagni's Opening at the Opera House Zanetto and Cavalleria rusticana Are Rendered", 9 October 1902, p. 8. Accessed 21 February 2010.
  • Pugliaro, Giorgio, ed. (1996). Opera '96. Annuario dell'opera lirica in Italia. EDT srl. p. 82. ISBN 88-7063-278-4.
  • Pugliaro, Giorgio, ed. (2008). Opera 2008. Annuario dell'opera lirica in Italia. EDT srl. p. 106. ISBN 88-6040-367-7.
  • Stivender, David, "The Genesis of a Masterpiece: Notes on Guglielmo Ratcliff", Essay accompanying the recording of Guglielmo Ratcliff by the RAI Orchestra conducted by Armando La Rosa Parodi (MRF-57-Sof) 1963. Accessed 21 February 2010.

Further readingEdit

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