In musicology, Verismo (meaning "realism", from Italian vero, meaning "true") refers to a post-Romantic operatic tradition associated with Italian composers such as Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Umberto Giordano and Giacomo Puccini. They sought to bring the naturalism of influential late 19th-century writers such as Emile Zola and Henrik Ibsen into opera. The style began in 1890 with the first performance of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, peaked in the early 1900s, and lingered into the 1920s. The style is distinguished by realistic – sometimes sordid or violent – depictions of everyday life, especially the life of the contemporary lower classes. It by and large rejects the historical or mythical subjects associated with Romanticism.
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 quintessential veristic subjects. Thus context is extremely important in understanding the intended meaning of "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.
While there is general consensus as to many works or composers that are said to belong to the verismo school, the term verismo lacks of a precise definition. There are many particular works and composers concerning which the use of the term verismo is often disputed.
Non-Italian works are generally excluded from the scope of the term, for various reasons. For example, the intimate psychological encounters in realistic settings that characterize an Austro-Germanic work like Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier (1911) are not ordinarily discussed in terms of Verismo because of the self-conscious "period-costume" setting of Strauss's opera, and because its elite and intellectually refined atmosphere are at odds with the earthy operatic melodramas being written in Italy during the same period, which are more typically associated with Verismo opera.
The "realistic" approach of Verismo extends to the music: the score of a Verismo opera is for the most part continuous and is not divided into separate "numbers" that can be excised easily and performed in concert excerpts (as is the case with the operatic genres that preceded Verismo). This is not always true, however – Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci, Tosca, and other verismo operas have arias, duets and choruses that are constantly excerpted in recitals, and Turandot (left incomplete at Puccini's death) marks a return to a "numbers" style.
It is interesting to note that Bizet's Carmen predated Cavalleria by 15 years. Carmen is essentially an archetypical Verismo opera: instead of kings and countesses the libretto features bullfighters, soldiers, factory workers and prostitutes embroiled in crime and violent passions. Umberto Giordano, whose Andrea Chenier is considered a prototypical verismo opera, viewed Carmen as representing both the origin and the best of that style.
Giordano viewed the style as sometimes losing sight of artistic truth in its search for sordid realism, explaining: "Verismo has every right to exist when it succeeds in inspiring a poetic creation like Carmen, but it should be condemned when it is limited to the prose of a Zazà (a verismo work by Ruggiero Leoncavallo)." ("Anche il verismo ha pieno ed assoluto diritto di esitere, se riesca a suggerire la creazione poetica di Carmen, e deve essere condannato, quando si limiti alla prosa d’una Zaza.")
Relationship with the music of Wagner 
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 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, when the main character of Siegfried (Act 2) wonders who his parents are, a leitmotiv reminds us that we have already met them in the previous opera – a perception outside Siegfried's awareness which enhances our wider view of the plot). By contrast, 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 of composition 
While some view Puccini as a verismo composer (and perhaps the foremost verismo composer), others, although acknowledging that he took part in the movement to some degree, do not view him as a "pure" verismo composer. Still others, especially within Italy, place him entirely outside the verismo school. Although at least two of Puccini's operas, Tosca and Il tabarro, are generally considered to be verismo operas, critics differ as to which other particular operas by Puccini are properly described with that term. For example, Puccini scholar Mosco Carner places only two of Puccini's operas other than Tosca and Il tabarro within the verismo school: Madama Butterfly, and La fanciulla del West. However, 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 gutsy slice-of-life opera, true Verismo came to the fore a decade and a half 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 musicological group known in its day as the giovane scuola ("Young School").
Verismo singers 
In Italy, many opera singers became Verismo acolytes—rejecting the traditional tenets of elegant, 19th century bel canto in the process. The most extreme exponents of Verismo vocalism sang habitually in a vociferous fashion, often forfeiting legato to focus on the passionate aspect of the music. They would 'beef up' the timbre of their voices, use excessive amounts of vocal fold mass on their top notes, and often employ a conspicuous vibrato in order to accentuate the emotionalism of their ardent interpretations. The results could be exciting in the theatre but such a strenuous mode of singing was not a recipe for vocal longevity. Some prominent practitioners of full-throttle Verismo singing during the movement's Italian lifespan (circa 1890 to circa 1930) include the sopranos Eugenia Burzio, Rosina Storchio and Adelaide Saraceni, the tenors Aureliano Pertile, Cesar Vezzani and Amadeo Bassi, and the baritones Mario Sammarco and Eugenio Giraldoni. Their method of singing can be sampled on numerous 78-rpm gramophone recordings. See Michael Scott's two-volume survey The Record of Singing, published in London by Duckworth in 1977/79, for an evaluation of most of these singers, and others of their Ilk, and a discussion of the adverse impact that Verismo music had on singing standards in Italy.
Such great early-20th century international operatic stars as Enrico Caruso, Rosa Ponselle and Titta Ruffo developed vocal techniques which harmoniously managed to combine fundamental bel canto precepts with a more 'modern', straightforward mode of ripe-toned singing when delivering Verismo music, and their example has influenced operatic performers down to this day (see Scott).
See also 
Notes and references 
- "Verismo" in Stanley Sadie (ed.) The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, London: Macmillan/New York: Grove, 1980, vol 19 p.670, ISBN 1-56159-174-2
- "Cio' che prepara e pensa Umberto Giordano". La Stampa. May 17, 1905.. Umberto Giordano told an interviewer in 1905: "The meaning of these words (vero and verismo) needs to be defined once and for all" ("Bisognerebbe adunque definire una buona volta il valore di questi vocaboli.")
- See for example Ashbrook & Powers (1991) Puccini's Turandot: The End of the Great Tradition.
- "Cio' che prepara e pensa Umberto Giordano". La Stampa. May 17, 1905.
- 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
- Montgomery, Alan (2006). Opera Coaching: Professional Techniques And Considerations. New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group. ISBN 0-415976000-6 Check
- Berger, William (2005). Puccini Without Excuses: A Refreshing Reassessment of the World's Most Popular Composer. Random House Digital. p. 7. ISBN 1-4000-7778-8.
- Fisher, edited by Burton D. (2003). Puccini's IL TRITTICO. Miami: Opera Journeys Pub. ISBN 0-9771455-6-5.
- Carner, Mosco (1985). Giacomo Puccini, Tosca (Reprinted ed.). Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-521-22824-7.