Techniques | Realism, Naturalisme & Verismo | High Romantic | Opera
In Italian they called it verismo, in French naturalisme. Bizet’s Carmen was the starting point of a movement that increasingly probed the problems of modern life by representing a series of realistic events. Carmen was an opéra comique where ‘realistic’ spoken dialogue was essential, communicating more like a play than an opera, and raising more contemporary questions than mythical or historical operas. And there’s more local colour too: here are real Spanish dances and gypsy girls singing. Bizet originally wrote Carmen’s entry as an operatic aria, with all its clichés. But he replaced it in the staging process, having found a Habanera – a dance-song – in a book of South American cabaret songs. Would Carmen have been such a success without this flash of inspiration? Probably not. Suddenly there were real events onstage: not just a heroine singing about herself, but presenting her body, and her ideals of free love, to the characters around her. Strong stuff for an opera house whose function was basically a marriage bureau for chaperoned females! This was the start of a trend that affected opera profoundly. Suddenly, in tune with literature and painting, it became interested in contemporary life: observation rather than literary research became the source for subject-matter.
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