Gramophone Magazine, when reviewing Anna Netrebko's new Verismo album, complained that it included repertoire not actually verismo. I would like to suggest that when originally coined, the term verismo referred to the plots of operas which showed a certain realism in their stories. They concerned themselves with middle and lower class people instead of the usual upper class types. Of course, opera has always included lower class people, but they were common only in comedy.
I would like to suggest that as we look back on the period, our attention is less on the plot elements and more on the overall musical style. In a verismo opera that means little to no coloratura. The singers show a somewhat lower larynx position and trend toward spinto. The accompanying music also has a distinct, immediately recognizable style.
In short would anyone say that La Gioconda is closer to Verdi than to Puccini? I think not. A broader definition of verismo now exists, and it is nonsense to carp about it.
SF Opera's Madama Butterfly
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