Guglielmo Ratcliff has never been a popular work. For a public that goes to the opera to be stirred by emotions rather than by the ideas inherent in an opera, no matter how emotional that work may be, this work will always be too somber and have too little action. That Mascagni knew this is of course true, and yet it always remained his own favorite among his operas. In the course of this article I have tried to give a rather comprehensive study of the reasons he thought so. Of course he never sat down and made out a table outlining how the pieces of the work should fall together: his instinct was strong enough to do this kind of thing for him. And yet the fact remains that the work is a highly organized musical fabric, which with careful study and listening never fails to make an impression on the listener.
Ratcliff is the summation of Mascagni's so-called "first period." With Iris, which occupies the prime place in his "second period", he took another step forward and was able to create a work which not only was able to capture the intensity and highly wrought architecture of Ratcliff, but added a new dimension to his work: a refinement and delicacy which, though they are present to some extent in the earlier opera, are not demanded by the text and and consequently not needed to any large degree. From Iris onward, every one of his operas became a trial, in the same sense as the operas of Verdi were for that composer, to overcome various problems of the Italian melodramma. He became less concerned with the outward action of his libretti and more concerned with the manner of presenting the ideas which were inherent in them. It was the musical vision that each work demanded that was to become his chief preoccupation. Seen in this light, Mascagni's career is thus one long preparation for his masterpiece, the gigantic
Parisina. That he attained his goal is known by every lover of all this misunderstood composer's works: Parisina found him at the summit of both his creative and technical powers. But for reasons obvious to the reader of this article, he loved Guglielmo Ratcliff most of all his children. When once we have absorbed this work in the very fiber of our musical, emotional and intellectual being we understand why this was so. And understanding, we can do no less than love it too.