Mascagni was captivated by the young Scottish romantic anti-hero of Heine's play Wilhelm Ratcliff, and he began composing his opera Guglielmo Ratcliff (translated into Italian) in 1882 whilst a student in Milan but laid it aside in order to compose Cavalleria rusticana for a competition. He won the competition, triumphing over seventy-two other entries, and Cavalleria rusticana made his name as a composer. Cavalleria rusticana is clearly anticipated in the music of Guglielmo Ratcliff, particularly in the atmospheric orchestral writing, full-blooded melodies and dramatic pace. The role of Guglielmo Ratcliff has the reputation of being one of the most demanding ever written for a tenor.
The opera is set in northern Scotland and concerns the tragic consequences of broken relationships in two generations. Maria MacGregor rejected Guglielmo Ratcliff as a husband but he is determined that no-one else shall marry her and challenges other suitors to duels, killing two of them. As Maria prepares to marry Count Douglas she learns that her mother and Guglielmo’s father had loved each other. However, her mother changed her mind and married MacGregor. The erstwhile lovers later resumed their relationship, but Maria’s father, MacGregor, killed Guglielmo’s father out of jealousy and Maria’s mother died of a broken heart. Guglielmo is haunted by the ghosts of the men he has killed and in his final delirium he kills Maria, her father and himself.
More information is available on the opera house's official website.
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Work's characters list