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A commemorative postcard to Pietro Mascagni's Le maschere (1901) shows the extensive marketing of the publisher Sonzogno.

The Verismo is a style of Italian opera between about 1890 and the 1920s.


At the end of the 19th century, Italian operatic traditions were at a turning point. It was over with opera seria and opera buffa , Giuseppe Verdi's melodramma tragico did not catch on, and neither Amilcare Ponchielli nor Arrigo Boito were able to free themselves from his influence with convincing concepts.

The Italian cities looked spellbound on Paris and tried to adopt the latest local fashions. The Opéra comique since Carmen (1875) and the Drame lyrique by Ambroise Thomas or Jules Massenet had become the current models. Richard Wagner's musical dramas also gained great influence from the 1880s . With their help, a young generation of composers ( Giovane Scuola ) broke away from the powerful role model Verdi.

Further impulses came from literature: from French literature, namely from Émile Zola , came naturalism , which had a considerable influence on the theater. He did not shy away from portraying the ugly if it corresponded to the (social) truth of the precisely portrayed figures. The Italian Risorgimento had given rise to “national” literature, from which, for example, Giovanni Verga emerged with his naturalistic Sicilian novels . The Milanese artist group Scapigliatura revolted against bourgeois moral concepts.

In addition, there were suggestions from the theater: The mostly spoken melodrama of the Parisian boulevard stages and London entertainment theaters could not prevail in Italy because theater life was dominated by the opera. The Tramelogödie of Vittorio Alfieri had, for example, found no imitators. Melodrama stylistic devices in Italian opera were therefore new and sensational. The naturalistic drama was very topical at the time, if still little known, and also exerted an influence.

In this situation, the Milanese publisher Edoardo Sonzogno created a new type of opera as a producer with a number of young composers, which suddenly caught on. In 1883 he announced a composition competition that was repeated several times. Pietro Mascagni emerged victorious from the second competition in 1888 . With his own theater newspaper and his own tours, Sonzogno ensured the distribution of the selected operas. The spectrum of these operas was, however, more diverse than the term verismo suggests today, and also included, for example, fairytale late romantic pieces (such as by Spyros Samaras ).


Exaggerated expression made verismo famous. The tenor Enrico Caruso around 1904 as the tragicomic hero Canio in the opera Pagliacci .

Still in the repertoire today are the two mostly performed together but stylistically very different works Cavalleria rusticana (one-act play, 1890) by Pietro Mascagni and Pagliacci (two-act play, 1892) by Ruggero Leoncavallo , with which Sonzogno's triumphant advance began.

Verismo operas that were not set up for Sonzogno's touring business are no longer necessarily one-act plays , but could be full-length. Jules Massenet's La Navarraise (1894) and Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier (1896) were published and produced by Sonzogno when he was also the artistic director of La Scala in Milan . Adriana Lecouvreur (1902) by Francesco Cilea remained in the repertoire of later verismo operas .

Numerous works that have nothing to do with the publisher Sonzogno are based on the successful stylistic devices of verismo, including some operas by Giacomo Puccini , who worked with Sonzogno's competitor Ricordi (particularly Tosca ). Alfred Bruneau wrote his opera Messidor (1897) with Emile Zola as librettist . A successful German-language opera, which at least from the libretto can be classified as verismo, is Tiefland (1903) by Eugen d'Albert .


The veristic opera shows the ultimate abandonment of classical theater rules such as the class clause or decorum (decent, stylized representation of the creature) at the end of the 19th century. The parade works Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci would clearly be comedies according to traditional criteria , their setting is a rural festival or the theater environment, their protagonists belong to the common people. Despite the grotesque stylistic devices, there is nothing to laugh about in the actions that culminate in relationship crimes. - Bajazzo's laughter in Pagliacci is an expression of madness and despair.

The stylistic range of verismo operas is large. One thing they have in common is the realistic actions in the lower social milieu with a violent climax. The settings are rural, exotic and later also metropolitan. There is also a tendency towards the concise, laconic form. Early verismo operas are often one-act plays . The catastrophe is separated from the preceding action by an instrumental interlude .

Verismo led to calculated theater scandals because of its story- telling constructions reminiscent of sensational journalism . Musical stylistic devices such as the orchestra going along in unison with the singing voice or a very simple counter-translation of melody and accompaniment were considered coarse and gimmicky. The inclusion of realistic noises such as pistol shots, laughter, screams and spoken sentences in the musical sequence caused a sensation, but did not meet with approval everywhere. Verdi rejected this exaggerated realism and forbade the actress in his Traviata from coughing loudly. The outrageous reviews by Viennese columnist and musicologist Eduard Hanslick are particularly well known .

Regardless of or precisely because of the critical reception, the verismo operas enjoyed worldwide success in the 1890s.


Western atmosphere at the premiere of La fanciulla del West , 1910.

The decline of opera verismo coincides with the heyday of silent films in the 1910s (for which verismo has also become a generic name). Erich Wolfgang Korngold's opera Violanta (1916) has now been criticized as a "bloody veristic cinema drama". With La fanciulla del West (1910), Giacomo Puccini explicitly referred to the new western genre. Riccardo Zandonai was able to deliver another successful opera work with Francesca da Rimini (1914).

In a refined form, as it were, Puccini incorporated elements of verismo into his operas. There are later echoes of verismo in Renzo Rossellini's La guerra (1956) or in Gian Carlo Menotti's The Saint of Bleeker Street (1954).

Verismo singer

The famous opera singers who also sang in verismo operas were and include Adelaide Saraceni , Amadeo Bassi , Rosina Storchio , José Cura as well as Mario Sammarco and Eugenio Giraldoni.


  • Josef-Horst Lederer: Verismo on the German-speaking opera stage 1891–1926. Vienna, Cologne, Weimar 1992.
  • Hans-Joachim Wagner: Foreign Worlds. The opera of Italian verismo. Metzler, Stuttgart a. a. 1999, ISBN 3-476-01662-5 (also: Köln, Univ., Habilitation thesis, 1997).
  • Isolde Schmid-Reiter (Ed.): Keyword: Verismo. Böhlau, Vienna a. a. 2003 ( Maske and Kothurn 49, 1/2, 2003), ISBN 3-205-77106-0 .
  • Sabine Brettenthaler: Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci: prototypes of veristic opera? An examination of their connection lines to literary verismo and the question of the meaningfulness of the term in music . Peter Lang Pub, 2003, ISBN 978-3-631-39707-7 .