Verismo is a literary movement that widely existed between 1875 and 1900s. Verismo is a term that refers to realism in Italian society, and the main proponents of the movement areLuigi Capuana and Giovanni Verga (Mallach, 2007). The two proponents opposed the claims concerning the social significance and scientific nature of the movement as compared to the French movement (naturalism) whose basis was on the positivistic ideals. Verismo has been adopted by musicologist such as Umberto Giordano, Giacomo Puccini and Pietro Mascagni. These musicologists attempted to bring the naturalism of the 19th century authors that include Henrik Ibsen and Emile Zola (Fisher, 2005).
The Verismo artistic style gained prominence after Mascagni's first performance of the Italian opera, Cavalleria rusticana, in 1890s. This style involves the realistic demonstrations of daily life, particularly the present lower classes in the society. At times, these depictions involved violent and sordid episodes (Kimbell, 1995). Additionally, the Verismo artistic style opposes the mythical or historical subjects that are related to Romanticism. On contrast, the close psychological encounters in true setting that are featured in Austro-Germanic works such as Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss, are not mentioned in verismo opera. This is because Austro-Germanic works have a setting based on the period and the costumes (Fisher, 2005).
Realism in verismo is also found in music because its opera is not divided into different numbers, unlike the initial operatic works. Nonetheless, Verismo operas have choruses, duets and arias that are found in recitals. Bizet, Carmen is a typical verismo opera that was performed earlier than the Cavalleria. The two are distinct in that Cavelleria entails countesses and kings while Carmen consists of the soldiers, prostitutes, bullfighters, and factory workers engaged in violent and crime passions (Mallach, 2007).
To begin with, the opera Cavelleria is a story created by Pietro Mascagni. Mascagni was an Italian author who is popularly for his operas. His works aroused a lot of interest in the verismo opera and his compositions have been very successful. He wrote 17 operettas and operas, many vocal and orchestral works and piano music and songs. He thrived in his compositions as he conducted personal and other people's music (Fisher, 2005).
Cavelleria is a story about a Turridu, a young villager who engages in an adulterous behavior with a woman called Santuzza. Conflict occurs when Turiddu betrays Santuzza by sleeping with Lola. Enmity ensues between the two women as they exchange bitter words. Since Lola is Alfio's wife, Alfio get bitter about the wife's affair with Turiddu and challenges him into a fight, according to their customs. A series of soar events take place that eventually result in the murder of Turiddu (Wright, 1996).
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In this opera, the orchestration comprises of the 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 2 clarinets, 4 horns, 2 oboes, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, tuba, strings, organ and harp. Mascagni's choice of the orchestra in his opera is a double standard one. Its composition resulted from a call for a competition among the Italian composers in 1888, by Edoardo Sonzogno. The contestants were asked to present a one-act opera, and the best three out of all presented works would be performed in Rome through Sonzogno's sponsorship (Mallach, 2007).
Upon getting the news, Mascagni and his librettists prepared their opera and emerged ne of the best presented operas in the competition. This nomination marked the beginning of Mascagni's prosperity in his career as he later produced two other successful verismo operas in his life. His operas had all the features of the versimo operas and had a relationship with Wagner operas (Wright, 1996).
The most popular Verismo operas in Italian operas are the Cavelleria Rusticana by Mascagni and Pagliacci by Leoncavallo's I. Cavelleria Rusticana's basis is a short story whose setting is on a mountain village in Sicily. It features carriers, peasant workers and the locals. It also portrays murder and retribution. On the other hand, Pagliacci is about a tragedy of an envious husband found in commedia dell'arte group. Enrico Caruso recorded Vesti la Guibba, which is the most popular aria of the Pagliacci, in 1907. This was the first world's record to make huge sales of over a million copies (Fisher, 2005).
Although the two Verismo operas; famously known as Cav and Pag, are seen as Verismo's flesh and bones, the Italian Verismo has no exact definition, or how far it extends in terms of the works and composers. The term could refer to fin de siècle operas thematic concerns, which are highly sensational, passionate and at times sordid. Verismo can also be used to mean plebian opera. Nonetheless, this varied sense and extent of the Verismo operas does not hinder them from being used worldwide (Kimbell, 1995).
However, there are different types of Verismo operas as explained by Pullini in his Teatro Italiano del Novecento. First, he talks about the region-based, famous, choral and lyrical naturalism of the Cavelleria, which depicts passion, poverty and brutality. There is also the Tristi Amore's bourgeois naturalism, with Giacosa, Verga, Capuana, Praga and Rovetta among others. Pullini further explains that the prevalence of realism means that the Verismo can be placed in any time or setting. It is for this reason that some people refer to certain operas, such as, Madame Butterfly, which portrays a distinct situation and setting as it is set in the modern world and as veristic (Wright, 1996).
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Italian Verismo operas have certain distinctive features that differentiate it from the European naturalism. One of them is that Italian Verismos are melodramatic because they have violent plots. They depict murderous events and sexual envy. Also, these operas abandoned the mythological and historical subjects that were originally related with operas (Kimbell, 1995). Verismo operas stage passions and actions of the modern people, and it mix sensational and sordid episodes, unlike the traditional operas that only dealt in passions and actions of the noble characters. In Verismo operas, the heroes are poor city residents, rural people and bohemianism representatives. Moreover, the social motifs of these operas were based on the Russian and French literature, and the ideas were borrowed from Italian socialist movement (Mallach, 2007).
About music, the verists were influenced by the Wagner and French opera (Massenet). Some of the musical devices used in these operas were emotionally charged melodies and harmonies, solo voices' declamation, hugeness and dissonance among other devices. Additionally, these operas were used as television and cinematic shock play forerunner. Moreover, these versitic operas are not divided into numbers, unlike the traditional operas. These ones have arias, choruses, and duets that are excerpted in recitals. On the contrary, Turandot, an opera that was not completed due to Puccini's demise, indicates the return of the numbers style in theater (Fisher, 2005).
Verismo operas are known to have been influenced by Wagner. In act I of Die Wakure and act III of the Siegfried have the seeds of several future Versos divisions and melodies. In their composition, the verisits would employ most of Wagner's musico-dramatic changes and innovations. Nevertheless, there is a slight difference in orchestra between Wagner and Verismo. Wagner operas do not necessarily have to follow the singers' presentations in content or in emotion.
With regard to creation, many composers are noted in history, and they include Puccini; Rugerro Leoncavallo, who wrote Pagliacci; Pietro Mascagni who composed Cavellerai rusticana; Fracesco Cilea and Umberto Giordano. Other veristi include Franco Alfano, well known for the completion of Puccini's Turandot, Gustave Charpentier, Alfredo Catalani, Franco Leoni, Lucinio Refice and Jules Massenet. Occasionally, Veristic operas were composed in the 20th century, for instance, The Jewels of the Madonna and Riccardo Zandonai. Today, an interest of the Italian verism is found all over the world (Kimbell, 1995).
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Even though Puccini is considered as the best verist, many musicologists do not approve of him as they claim that he had little engagement in the Verismo compositions. Some argue that at least some of his compositions were classified under verismo operas, and thus qualifying him to be one of the verists. Although Bizet's Carmen of 1875 became the first popular opera, there is another one that preceded it by 15 years (Mallach, 2007).
This is the famous Mascagni's Cavellerai Rusticana. Carmen, however, is considered the archetypical Verismo composition that has soldiers, bullfighters, factory employees and prostitutes, who were engaged in murder caused by and envy and violent actions. This was in contrast with the Cavelleria Rusticana that had countesses and kings. It also had elegant and traditional music rather than the sharp emotional music of the Verismo opera (Wright, 1996).
In conclusion, the Verismo opera are compositions that were made after the romanticism. They were based o n the realistic events in life demonstrated by characters on stage. Among the greatest verismo composers of time include Puccini, Mascagni, Fracesco Cilea and Umberto Giordano. Most of the Verismo operas, such as, Cavelleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Carmen and Turrandot, are influenced by the Wagner operas, especially in terms of the music. Therefore, the Verismo operas have been instrumental in the growth and development of the theatrical works today. This is because most of the artists today have borrowed a lot from the ancient compositions.