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March 21, 2019

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Bel canto vs. Verismo

March 21, 2019

April 5-7, 2019, New Moon Opera will perform a double bill of one-act operas, Il Campanello by Gaetano Donizetti and Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo PucciniWhile both operas are comedic Italian operas, they are decidedly different in style.  Il Campanello is from a 19th century opera style called bel canto, while Gianni Schicchi is from a later opera style called verismo.  (To learn more about the background and stories of these two operas, check out our earlier blog posts!)

 

Bel Canto

 

Bel canto literally means "beautiful singing" and is considered to be a style of singing characterized by an even tone through all registers, ability to sing legato, use of tone colors to match the text, and other qualities that sound a lot like the way most modern opera singers use their instruments.  There is another application to the term bel canto which refers to the operas of  Bellini , Donizetti, and Rossini.

 

 

Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) composed operas such as:

 

I Campuleti e i Montecchi

La Sonnambula

Norma

I Puritani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) composed operas such as:

 

L'elisir d'amore (Elixer of Love)

Lucia di Lammermoor

Il Campanello di Notte

La fille du régiment

Don Pasquale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) composed operas such as:

 

L'Italiana in Algeri

Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville)

La Cenerentola (Cinderella)

Guillaume Tell (William Tell)

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most well-known pieces from a bel canto opera is the aria "Il dolce suono" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.  You may have heard it sung by a blue alien in the movie The Fifth Element.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Il dolce suono" sung by Pretty Yende         

 

In "Il dolce suono" you can hear there is a slow first section with lots of legato singing, and then a faster second section with lots of coloratura (fast notes arranged into scales and other patterns).  The slow section is called a cavatina and the faster section is called a cabaletta.  Almost all bel canto arias follow this pattern.  

 

Besides cavatinas and cabalettas, there is also another style of music that a lot of comedic bel canto operas use called patter or patter song.  It sounds just like the name indicates: lots of words in fast succession, sometimes featuring tongue-twisters, alliteration, and other entertaining effects.  Listen to Don Magnifico (evil step-father) from Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella) to hear him patter!

 

Don Magnifico's aria from La Cenerentola (Rossini) sung by Alessandro Corbelli

 

Il Campanello features many cavatinas, cabalettas, and patter songs, so be sure to listen for them when you come see the show!

 

The subjects of most bel canto operas are historical figures (like Donizetti's Anna Bolena/Anne Bolyn), based on literature (like Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor), or various comedic situations (like Donizetti's Il Campanello or Rossini's Barber of Seville).  In fact, almost all operas before the bel canto era were about historical figures, literary figures, gods and goddesses, and royalty.  

 

The Transition: Verdi

 

 

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) composed operas such as: 

 

Ernani

MacBeth

Rigoletto

Il trovatore

La traviata

Un ballo in maschera

Aida

Otello

Falstaff

 

 

Like a lot of composers throughout music history (looking at you, Beethoven), Verdi is considered to be on the edge between two styles.  His early operas are closer to the traditional bel canto style, while his later operas are a bit closer to the later verismo style. As you can glean from the above list, Verdi also based many of his operas on historical and literary figures.  La traviata (The Fallen Woman) is based on the play La dame aux Camélias, but it is a bit unusual in that the subjects are more average people (at least more average than say, MacBeth or Otello) and the story is a bit more gritty/sexy than a lot of previous operas had ever been.  

 

"Libiamo" from the Met's production of La traviata, sung by Juan Diego Flores and Diana Damrau

 

Verismo

 

Some music scholars say that Verdi's La traviata influenced the verismo movement in that it featured a more gritty side of life with people that seem more relatable than previous bel canto characters.  Composers such as Puccini, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Giordano, and Cilea wrote in the verismo style; verismo meaning "realism" in Italian. 

 

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) composed operas such as:

 

Manon Lescaut

La Bohème (the famous Bohème)

Tosca

Madama Butterfly

Il Trittico: Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857-1919) composed operas such as:

 

I Pagliacci

I Medici

La Bohème (not the famous one)