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Pietro Mascagni (born Livorno, 7 December 1863; died Rome, 2 August 1945)


Luigi Illica (born Piacenza, 9 May 1857; died Piacenza, 16 December 1919)



First Performance: Rome (Teatro Costanzi), 22 November 1898.

First Performance (revision): Milan (La Scala), 1899.

First Performance in UK: London (Covent Garden), 8 July 1919.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (City Halls), 1 December 2019.



Things Japanese were very fashionable the world over during the last decades of the nineteenth century.  In Britain the preference was generally for lighter opera and operetta, including The Mikado, The Geisha and The Mousmé.  In Italy, Mascagni's Iris was a great deal more serious, with a plot of unrelieved gloom.  When Madama Butterfly appeared five years later Iris was quickly relegated to near obscurity, even though the generally high quality of its music has continued to be recognized.


Main Characters

Iris, an innocent girl (soprano).

Il Cieco (the blind man), Iris's father (bass)

Osaka, a rich but dissolute young man (tenor)

Kyoto, a brothel keeper (baritone)


Plot summary

The opera begins and ends with the 'Hymn to the Sun' - a sequence of superb orchestration by Mascagni that represents the sunrise.

The events occur in Japan during the nineteenth century. Dawn gradually breaks on the home of Iris and her blind father, whom she loves. She opens up the cottage for the new day, but worries as she has had a bad dream during the night.  She is young and beautiful and is coveted by Osaka, a wealthy but profligate young man.  Kyoto, keeper of the local brothel, wants to add her to his stable of girls. While her father prays and Iris sees to the garden, the community comes to life. Kyoto and Osaka bring in a puppet show. Iris's attention is absorbed by this.  Three geishas dance round her and while she is concealed by them she is abducted.  Osaka leaves money for the father to legalise the kidnap, but the old man is enraged and sets off to find her.

Later that day, at Osaka's brothel, Kyoto and Osaka wait for Iris to awaken. She does not understand what has happened. Osaka tells her that he represents pleasure.  This frightens her as a priest once told her that Pleasure and Death were one,  Osaka has one last attempt to seduce her but quickly becomes bored.   Kyoto, to lure Osaka back, dresses her up in a provocative way with expensive clothes and jewels, and poses her on the balcony.   The crowd below is amazed at her beauty, and Osaka's interest is aroused once more.  Iris's father now arrives and she calls to him.  He believes she is there voluntarily, disowns her and throws mud at her.  Horrified by his curse she jumps down into a sewer below.

Before dawn the next morning, ragpickers and scavengers are searching for anything of interest. They discover Iris and drag her out more dead than alive.  They start to steal her jewels, but when she shows signs of life they run off.  The skies brighten.  Voices whisper to her of the corruption of Kyoto, lust of Osaka and selfishness of her father.  As the Hymn to the Sun emerges again, she sinks into oblivion.

The Cast

 a Geisha
First rag picker
 leader of the scavengers (il cenciaiulo)
Il Cieco
 the Blind Man, Iris's father
 keeper of a geisha house
 a rich and dissolute young man
Second rag picker
Third rag picker

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