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Title: Turandot : the assertion or negation of a myth?
Authors: Frendo, Maria
Keywords: Puccini, Giacomo, 1858-1924. Turandot
Operas -- Librettos
Operas -- Analysis, appreciation
Issue Date: 2008
Citation: Frendo, M. (2008). Turandot: the assertion or negation of a myth?. Mediterranea 2008, 27-38
Abstract: One wonders what made Puccini focus on Murger’s Scènes de la vie de la bohème in the last decade of the nineteenth century. By all standards, it is a nondescript topic that, at that time, would not have been considered decorous for the grandness and excesses invariably associated with opera. A similar question arises some twenty years later, when Puccini finds himself alienated away from the “piccolo cose” of bohemian concerns, and drawn back to the grandiose, epic and almost mythical theme in Turandot. One plausible answer to the initial question can be located in the fact that the fin-de-siècle saw a radical shift away from the mythical and the mythological. It is a change that was commensurate with what was happening in European literature at the time, namely, that Romanticism was finally defunct and the new focus is now on Realism and its more radical form, Naturalism. Originating in France, the main champions of this new movement were Flaubert, Dumas, Balzac, and others. It reached its peak in Zola who was not only its most radical practitioner but also wrote treatises on Naturalism. Verdi’s 1849 Louisa Miller indicates the first stirrings of this new spirit in opera, and perhaps more notably, La traviata of 1853 has the audacity, as it were, to bring a morally dubious heroine who is sexually tainted on the operatic stage. Yet, perhaps, no other opera best places Naturalism more soundly on the operatic map than Carmen, Bizet’s opera of 1875. It sets the benchmark for naturalist operas to follow and emulate in the subsequent decades. Following Bizet’s example, Bruneau composes operas based on Zola, Massenet ventures into the domain with his La Navarraise of 1898, with Charpentier hot on his heels with Louise of 1900. In Italy, Naturalism is best known as verismo and the group of musicians who adhered to this new creed consisted of Giordano, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and Puccini, the latter with La bohème, Tosca, and Il Tabarro. These composers were known as Giovane Scuola Italiana. Of course, Italian composers found a most fertile ground in the literature of their time, in writers who themselves had been inspired by the French. Among these one finds Luigi Capuana and, perhaps more importantly, Giovanni Verga, whose short story forms the basis for Mascagni’s wonderful Cavalleria Rusticana of 1890.
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