Verismo

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Verismo

 

a realistic trend in late 19th-century Italian literature, music, and fine arts that strove to reflect the social and psychological conflicts of the contemporary national historical reality of a unified Italy, which had entered upon the path of capitalist development.

In literature verismo was subject to the contradictory influence of E. Zola’s theory of naturalism, the critical realism of French and Russian literature, and the ideas of the Italian socialist movement. The national originality of verismo lies in its profound sympathy for the oppressed working people, whose life (for the most part, that of peasants and poor people from the provinces) formed the basic content of the novels and short stories of the theoreticians of verismo—G. Verga, L. Capuana, D. Ciampoli, R. Fucini, M. Serao, and others. The verists introduced the language of the common people into literature, making extensive use of dialects; they also created a theater reflecting everyday life (the comedies of G. Rovetta and G. Giacosa); and they introduced a new content into poetry (L. Stecchetti, pseudonym of O. Guerrini, and A. Boito). Nevertheless, the verists failed to see the social potential for eliminating social injustice; hence their works were filled with motifs of doom and an overexaggeration of the role of physiology. The best traditions of verismo have been developed by modern, progressive Italian literature.

In music verismo became famous in operatic works. The social motifs characteristic of the literature of verismo were seldom developed in these operas. For the heroes of their works the composers chose rural folk, poor city dwellers, and representatives of bohemianism, and they concentrated on the drama of these characters’ personal lives, based for the most part on clashes over love affairs. The first examples of veristic opera were P. Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana (produced 1890) and R. Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (produced 1892). More important achievements in operatic verismo were reached in the creative work of G. Puccini (for example, Manon Lescaut, produced 1893; La Bohème, produced 1896; Tosca, produced 1900; Madama Butterfly, produced 1904; and The Girl of the Golden West, produced 1910). The success of these veristic works was due to their theatrical effectiveness and melodically expressive music, which underscored the emotionality. Nevertheless, naturalistic tendencies, a melodramatic approach, a superficial, illusory quality, overexaggerated expression, and a predilection for monotonous melodization of the recitatives detracted from the fullness of the characterizations. Tendencies related to verismo existed in France (operas by A. Bruno and G. Charpentier’s Louise), Germany (E. d’Albert’s opera Tiefland) and other countries.

In the fine arts verismo was characterized by an interest in the lives of peasants and workers and significant sociocritical tendencies, but also by a pessimistic, at times passively naturalistic, acceptance of reality (the painters F. P. Michetti and G. Pellizza da Volpedo and the sculptors V. Vela and V. Gemito, for example).

WORKS

In Russian translation:
Ital’ianskie novelly: 1869-1914. [Foreword by B. G. Reizov.] Moscow-Leningrad, 1960.

REFERENCES

Gramsci, A. Letteratura e vita nazionale. Turin, 1950.
Marzot, G. “Il verismo.” In Questioni e correnti di storia letteraria. Milan, 1949.
Salinari, C. Storia popolare della letteratura italiana, vol. 3. Rome, 1962.
Rinaldi, M. Musica e verismo. Rome, 1932.
De Logu, G. Pittura italiana dell’ottocento. Bergamo [1955].
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