As I attempted to show in my article on Bel Canto, that style of singing in opera was eloquent, structured, with long melodic lines.
However, tastes change. Around the turn of the century, a new fad was taking hold in the literary world. Naturalism or as it became known in Italy, Verismo, now looked for true, realistic and contemporary storytelling. No longer were stories about Gods, mythological figures, or Kings and Queens. But instead, the protagonists would be real people in real situations, such as a woman working in a cigarette factory or a Diva pursued by the Chief of Police, or a story based on a real trial of a clown in a traveling show.
Emile Zola and Giovani Verga were the famous authors of this literary movement. And then, in 1875, along came Bizet’s opera, Carmen, and one can say Verismo in opera was born.
No longer was there the long elegant melodic lines, but instead a passionate, declamatory style of singing was born.
Here is a clip of Carmen showing this passionate style.
The Carmen here was Agnes Baltsa and Don Jose, the Spanish tenor, Jose Carreras. They sang these two roles all over the World.
One could say Carmen was the antecedent to Verismo, which soon took complete hold on the opera world of Italy. Here the young Italian opera composers, such as Puccini, Mascagni, Giordano, and Leoncavallo, would fundamentally change opera. Of course, Verdi and Wagner were influences, but these composers made Verismo their own style.
No longer were the composers creating works with set pieces and recitative and in a very structured way, but instead, the entire work was a seamless musical composition.
Puccini’s Tosca is one great example of Verismo. Real passion with people struggling with life’s issues. Here is a clip from the conclusion of Act 1.
Sherrill Milnes is spectacular in this role; don’t you agree?
The two works that really are the heart and soul of Verismo is Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. So much so, these short one act operas by Mascagni and Leoncavallo respectively have been joined in performance almost from inception.
“The author has tried to paint for you a glimpse of life” — So says Tonio in the Prologue and with those words the composer has really provided to the listener the entire goal of the Verismo movement.
Here is Pavarotti singing one of the most famous arias from Pagliacci.
The verismo style also changed the way singers sang opera. Now, a more spoken style of singing was introduced. Florid singing was out, and a more, let’s call it, heart on your sleeve style of singing was put forth.
Perhaps, the great tenor, Enrico Caruso, is the best example of this unabashed style. Here is a short clip for you to view.
Recorded in 1905, his miraculous voice still shines through the dim recording.
Verismo lasted until the early 20s. One could say with the death of Puccini, so died Verismo. A short lived style of opera, but one that still brings much excitement and joy to those of us still listening today.
Author of Tempesta’s Dream and A Song for Bellafortuna.