Italian opera from Verdi to Verismo: Boito and la Scapigliatura
Vetere, Mary-Lou Patricia
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The Scapigliatura : literally, existential disheveledness, designates an ambiguous, reformist movement in Italian art, literature, and music ca. 1858-1895. A veritable chameleon on the surface, at once seeming avant-garde, then concerned with national political and social issues, the Scapigliatura was comprised of pioneering artists who called themselves the“ scapigliati, ” who were in search of revitalizing Italian art after the Risorgimento. In music, the Scapigliatura has been considered an obscure transitional movement in opera pre-dating “Verismo,” but further examination reveals what is arguably a fully implemented platform for operatic reform, in which the movement’s foremost contributor, Arrigo Boito, played an especially valuable historical role. This dissertation provides the possibility of rewriting the historical narrative of the latter half of nineteenth century Italian opera. I begin by examining the effects of the Risorgimento on Italian opera and by considering Giuseppe Mazzini’s Filosofia della Musica (1836) as a foundational document of the Scapigliatura. Since Verdi’s operas have been considered the chief representative works of Risorgimento opera his role in and his reluctance to innovate the genre after Italian unification are suggested as primary reasons for the Scapigliatura ’s genesis. In order to define the aesthetics framed by the Scapigliatura works, the movements’ beginnings along with several readings of important Scapigliatura poems and publications are explored. Proceeding from these interpretations of the early Scapigliatura literature, much of it translated here for the first time, I suggest that Boito adopted and enriched Scapigliatura aesthetics, translating them into an operatic format. Several of Boito’s publications and poems are re-interpreted to reveal the details of his anti-conventional program for operatic reform and its eventual manifestation in his Mefistofele, for which a full-scale analysis is presented. Mefistofele is shown to have served as a new prototype for Scapigliatura opera. Finally, the impact of the Scapigliatura and Boito’s influence on Giuseppe Verdi are examined. Since Verdi’s late works were written in collaboration with Boito, and since those works have defied simple generic categorization it is possible that the composer’s Simon Boccanegra, Otello, and Falstaff are also linked to the concept of Scapigliatura reform-opera. This approach to the Verdi/Boito aesthetic provides a new and logical frame for the complicated period of transition leading from Verdi’s late works to Puccini’s early works, notably Le Villi and Edgar, which have been more often associated with Scapigliatura principles.