By Danile Pistone
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Extra resources for Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera from Rossini to Puccini
Settings In operatic settings, choices of time and place as well as the number of act divisions evolved in rather clear-cut trends. After the age of mythological or pastoral themes associated with the birth of opera, the vogue for historical subjects survived into the nineteenth century. Historical antiquityintroduced into the operatic repertoire at the time of Monteverdi (L'incoronazione di Poppea)dropped out of favor in the eighteenth century (in spite of Handel's Giulio Cesare or Vivaldi's Incoronazione di Dario) and came back into fashion after Spontini's Fernand Cortez (Paris, 1809).
This period also saw the emergence of the working proletariat (First International, 186472; Second International, 1889), while in Milan a "Partito operaio independante" was formed in 1882. The socialist party was organized in 189293, just prior to Italy's Industrial Age (18961913). The common people became real players in the Italian opera repertoire with Smareglia's Nozze istriane (libretto by Illica, 1895). Indeed, in a country whose unification was effected within a conservative context and whose left wing only timidly came into power in 1876, it was not until Andrea Chénier (libretto by Illica, 1896) that the Italian stage presented a genuine tirade against the aristocracy, through the character of Gérard in the first act.
One need only compare Rossini's setting of Otello with that of Verdi's to see the difference between their respective portraits of Iago. Evil, ruthless personages like Barnaba in La Gioconda, 12 Tonio in I pagliacci, and Scarpia in Tosca were almost inconceivable before the 1870s, even though the figures of Marcovaldo (I lombardi alla prima crociata) and Wurm (Luisa Miller) had already registered new lows in audience sympathy. Such villains were far removed from the dignity of Norma's rival or from the heroic love of Cunizza who, in Oberto, wants to give Riccardo back to Leonora.