For his 30th birthday, Pietro Mascagni bought himself a girl. It was 4 years since the premiere of his short opera Cavalleira Rusticana, which made him a celebrity by night. He was now director of the Scuola Musicale Romana, in Rome, and his status at the high society in Rome demanded something more presentable than a mistress. As lovely as she was, Anna Lolli was no more than that. He needed a wife. A presentable wife.
Elmira De Ville was 14 years old when she became the lady Mascagni. Her patrician, proud and destitute family was all to happy to marry her off to a man of considerable wealth. But the inferior musician was way beneath the dignity of young Elmira. She loathed him.
Unfortunately, Elmira De Ville – now the lady Mascagni – had in looks all that her family had lacked in money. She was absolutely adorable. And as mush as the loathed and hated the old, ugly man (whose height was as low as his ancestry), all the more did he love her. And as many a woman finds out, rejection often heightens the infatuation of an unwanted courtier. The more gentlemanly he was, the worse off his condition became. Soon her disapproval of him became a seething hate. The poisoned his dogs. We know of several occasions in which she attacked him with a knife. She did her very best to make his life a hell. Apparently, she was good at it. All of the years of destitution and humiliation (and, probably, abuse) that she endured as a child, now poured out of her in a storm of malevolence. For three years Pietro did his best to cheer up the relationship, while his young bride did her worst unto him. For three years he was the perfect loving, caring gentleman. He lay not a finger on her. Not without approval. But he was slowly wearing out. He stopped writing music. And, eventually, within three years, his defences collapsed. It was a bleak December night, when the girl set fire to the sole manuscript he was able to produce in months. Of what came next we know very little, and from questionable sources. We do know there was a rape involved, and a rather brutal one. That night, unable to bare the shame, or to forgive himself, Pietro took flight. He left the country. And his feet did not tread on Italian soil for eleven years.
It is from this period that we have the most remarkable love letters. Deeply passionate, though somewhat repetitive, and often very erotic. But the eleven years long correspondence was one-sided. He never answered any of her letters. It was now Elmira’s turn to plead. And she pleaded guilty. Guilty of love, of mistreating him, of failing to grasp what a magnificent treasure he was. For eleven years she pledged her love to him, and asked for his forgiveness. But it is was to himself that Pietro Mascagni was now unable to forgive. He kept her letters, but he answered none. And, as we already noted, he did not dare to set foot in Italy for over a decade.
It was only with the personal invitation of the Duce, that Mascagni started contemplating his return. His long tour abroad was waning, and his funds were drying up. The restoration of Italian national pride demanded him back home. He had a wife there, and a loving mistress, and a very good position awaiting him. On april 1936, at long last, the famed exile returned to Rome. A huge crowd gathered to greet him. And, as he came down from the ship, he saw, at the edge of the crowd, a familiar carriage. And from that carriage came Elmira, weeping, running out to him. And his legs suddenly carried him to her. And the crowds cheered and laughed in wonder and in glee. And the lovers were joined at last. And they returned to their estate in Tuscany. And Pietro started writing again, and Elmira, for the first time in her life, was basking in happiness. And they lived happily ever after.
But no man, flesh and blood, could ever hope to compete with a myth. All the more so with a myth which was carefully cultivated for eleven years. The living Pietro by her side was not quite what Elmira had in mind. With the passing of a year, she poisoned him, and dedicated the remainder of her long life to the commemoration of her great glorious genius of a husband – the lover, the man, the composer, Pietro Mascagni. God rest his soul.