Verismo: Wikis

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Verismo (meaning "realism", from Italian vero, meaning "true") was an Italian literary and, by extension, operatic movement which peaked between approximately 1875 and the early 1900s. Giovanni Verga and Luigi Capuana were its main exponents and the authors of a verismo manifesto. Unlike French naturalism, which was based on positivistic ideals, Verga and Capuana rejected claims of the scientific nature and social usefulness of the movement. Verismo is also used to refer to a post-Romantic Italian operatic tradition associated with composers such as Pietro Mascagni, Ruggiero Leoncavallo, and Giacomo Puccini, who advocated bringing the naturalism of writers such as Emile Zola and Henrik Ibsen into opera.

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Verismo as an opera style

Internationally the term is more widely understood to refer to a style of Italian opera that marked its origin in 1890 with Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana and lasted into the early twentieth century[1]. The style is distinguished by realistic – sometimes sordid or violent – depictions of contemporary everyday life, especially the life of the lower classes, rejecting the historical subjects of Romanticism, or mythical ones, such as Mascagni's Iris. By contrast, the intimate psychological penetration in realistic settings of natural social chatter of a work like Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is not ordinarily discussed in terms of verismo, simply because of its "costume" setting and elite depictions.

The “realistic” approach of Verismo extends to music in that the score of a Verismo opera is for the most part continuous and is not divided into separate “numbers” in the score, which can be excerpted easily and performed in concert (as is the case with the genres preceding Verismo.) This is not always true, however - Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci, Tosca, and other verismo operas have arias and choruses that are constantly excerpted in recitals. By contrast, Turandot (incomplete at Puccini's death) marks a return to a 'numbers' style (see say Ashbrook & Powers (1991) Puccini's Turandot: The End of the Great Tradition).

It is interesting to note that Bizet's Carmen predated Cavalleria by 15 years. Yet Carmen is the archetypical Verismo opera: instead of kings and countesses there are bullfighters and prostitutes. And the volume of bloodshed in Carmen certainly matches that of Cavalleria or Pagliacci.

Relationship with the music of Wagner

No Verismo melody, fragment, or leitmotif is composed simply because it sounds pretty. The purpose of each bar of a Verismo score is to convey or reflect scenery, action, or a character’s feelings. In this approach, Verismo composers may appear to have followed Richard Wagner’s method. Indeed, Wagner’s influence on Verismo is obvious. Act One of Die Walküre and Act Three of Siegfried contain the seeds of many future Verismo fragments and melodies.

On the other hand, it has been claimed[2] that the use of the orchestra fundamentally differs between Wagner and Verismo, as follows: in Wagner, the orchestra needs not necessarily follow what the singers are presenting in emotion or even content (for instance, Siegfried (act 2) wonders who his parents are, and we are reminded by a leitmotiv that we have already met them in the previous opera. This is outside of Siegfried's awareness, but for the audience literally expands our understanding of the plot). However, in Verismo, Corazzol [2, p 263] claims that the orchestra merely "echoes and validates the voices" and thus the style offers "a regressive point of view": the orchestra can add nothing to the drama or to the audience's understanding, even if it can serve to deepen the music's emotionality, for example the use in Manon Lescaut of the Tristan chord. The reference to Tristan is emotionally illustrative, but offers no new salient plot detail until the 20th century.

Exponents of the Verismo style

Umberto Giordano, Lorenzo Perosi, and Pietro Mascagni, members of the Giovane Scuola

Although worldwide Giacomo Puccini is generally accepted as the greatest Verismo composer, this claim is widely disputed by musical critics in Italy. Even if some critics do view him as part of this style, others merely accept a partial involvement. The most accepted claim is that at least a few of his operas (Tosca, for one) are classifiable as verist. And if one does not synonymize "Verismo" with "bloodshed," one could postulate that Puccini gave us the most perfect "realistic" opera in La Bohème.

Though Bizet's Carmen (1875) was the first 'realistic' opera, Verismo came to the fore fifteen years later in Italy, with the historic premiere (1890) of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. The most famous composers of Verismo opera, discounting Puccini, were Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo (whose Pagliacci is often coupled with Cavalleria), Umberto Giordano, and Francesco Cilea. There were, however, many other veristi: Franco Alfano, best known however for completing Puccini's Turandot, Alfredo Catalani, Gustave Charpentier (Louise), Eugen d'Albert (Tiefland), Ignatz Waghalter ("Der Teufelsweg" and "Jugend"), Alberto Franchetti, Franco Leoni, Jules Massenet (La Navarraise), Licinio Refice, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, (I gioielli della Madonna) and Riccardo Zandonai. The Italian verismo composers comprised a group that was known as the giovane scuola ("Young School").

Other usages

The term "verismo" is also sometimes used to describe the very recognizable musical style that was prevalent among Italian composers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For most of the veristi, traditionally veristic subjects accounted for only some of their operas. Mascagni himself wrote a pastoral comedy (L'amico Fritz), a symbolist work set in Japan (Iris), and a couple of medieval romances (Isabeau and Parisina). These works are far from typical verismo subject matter, yet they are written in the same general musical style as his more purely veristic subjects. Thus context is very important in understanding the intended meaning of the term "verismo", as it is used both as a description of the gritty, passionate, working-class dramas that the term was coined to describe, and also as the musical movement in which the giovane scuola were participants.

"Verismo" also refers to painting style. Giovanni Verga, in literature, comes close to the style of the I Macchiaoli. He lived during the same period (1865-67) in Florence, and his Cavalleria rusticana contains parallelisms to the Tuscan landscape school of this period. "Espousing an approach that later put him in the camp of verismo (verism), his particular sentence structure and rhythm have some of the qualities of the macchia. Like the Macchiaioli, he was fascinated by topographical exactitude set in a nationalist framework" (Albert Boime, The Art of the Macchia and the Risorgimento).

"Verismo" is also a brand name of espresso machines.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie; 1980; ISBN 1-56159-174-2 article "Verismo" vol 19 p.670
  2. ^ Luca Zoppelli and Arthur Groos: Twilight of the True Gods: "Cristoforo Colombo", "I Medici" and the Construction of Italian History. Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 8, No. 3, (Nov., 1996), pp. 251-269; Cambridge University Press
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Simple English

Verismo is a word which refers to a type of literature and a type of opera that was popular towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The Italian word "verismo" means "realism". In literature the main verismo writers were the Frenchman Emile Zola, the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen and the Italian writer Giovanni Verga. The composer Pietro Mascagni used a story by Verga for his opera Cavalleria rusticana. This was a short, one-act opera which became extremely popular. Several composers were inspired by it and wrote similar works. The only one of these which is still regularly performed is Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo. These two short operas are often performed on the same evening. They are known together as "Cav and Pag".

Verismo operas are generally based on stories about ordinary people from the working classes rather than about kings or gods or aristocrats. There is often a lot of violence in the stories as people love one another with great passions, which often leads to murder. Bizet's opera Carmen is typical of that kind of story, although it was composed before the verismo tradition was really popular.

References


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