The genesis of Italian Romantic Opera

The penetration of romanticism in Italy

The new German Romantic music penetrates in Italy through a process of adaptation to the pre-existing classical tradition.

Some argue that Italians would have some kind of natural inclination for the sensitive world rather than the mysteries of the unknown, which could explain the way romanticism developed in Italy.

Italian romanticism bears an exaltation of the individual but not a sense of his limitations or the longing for the infinite which characterize the German movement. Italian artists feel life as a source of joy for all it offers, rather than a cause of sadness or nostalgia for what it lacks of or what it is not.

The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, 1818, Oil on canvas, Hamburg

The intensification of feelings

The classical tradition inheritance, accompanied by a gradual disappearance of instrumental music, contribute to the creation of music characterized by an ardent and passionate atmosphere.

Italian romantic opera is an intensification of feelings, an exaltation of the heart that completely rejects the reasoning. Whatever has nothing to do with the protagonist/hero – whether nature, religion or metaphysics – is left out.

Love, the greatest exaltation of the individual

What could be the greatest exaltation of the individual, if not love? That why love takes the centre of the opera stage, by becoming its protagonists only truth, the only good, the only thing that makes life worthwhile. Whatever interferes or prevents it, implies cheating and causes injustice and evil.

Love though was also quite simply the only subject suitable for speculation in a country with no political freedom and very little freedom of thought.

The Kiss by Francesco Hayez, 1859, Pinacoteca di Brera. The painting is considered the icon of Italian Romanticism.

The exaltation of the heart

Lacking any social or historical background or philosophical meditation relating to its infinite and eternal dimensions – as for Faust or Tristan – love becomes purely a romantic exaltation of the heart, an apology of itself.

Bellini’s and Donizetti’s operas cover the whole phenomenology of love unhappiness. Thus just one opera was written on the Capuleti and Montecchi story, the production of these two composers is mainly made of variations on the theme of Romeo and Juliet.

The last kiss given by Juliet to Romeo by Francesco Hayez

A complete emotional involvement

The protagonists of romantic operas live love differently than those of the eighteenth-century repertoire. For them love is a complete emotional enrapture. They share this incontrollable passion with a public who generally has a more ordinary life and now, through this new music drama, can experience a total emotional involvement.

The decline of the Neapolitan school

Italian Romanticism also marks the decline of the glorious Neapolitan school and the gradual musical unification of Italy. This reflects into a style that is more influenced by the new European trends and sensible to the musical tastes of the north.

This is showed by both Bellini’s and Donizetti’s carriers. Vincenzo Bellini who is considered the last exponent of the Neapolitan school, after moving to Milan, becomes an organic part of that environment. On the other side Gaetano Donizetti, born in the north, finds no obstacles in establishing himself in Naples and Rome.

This division between the north, where the southerner Bellini triumphs and the south, where is mostly performed the northener Donizetti, does not carry any stylistic difference.

The end of Italian supremacy

Rivals in Italy, both these composers struggled to establish themselves abroad, particularly in Paris, although they could count there on Rossini‘s help and support.

Italian romanticism means supremacy of the heart over the reason. So much so that melody becomes the core of Italian romantic music.

International public however begin to give preference to the new instrumental and symphonic music; as a consequence on International stages Italian composers now suffer the fierce competition of foreign composers.

With time, the gap between Italian and foreign music widens. And so arises the cliche that wants Italian music mostly melodic and sing-centered whereas, for instance, German more centred on harmony and symphonic instrumentation.

About Sara Filippini

Opera music along with destination management and communication are my fields of expertise. Music and singing are my passion combined with travel and exploring the connection between places and their stories. Coming from Italy I am blessed with wealth of history and adventures to be explored from Sicily to the Alp's. The real dept of any story can be best felt from the place of its origin were the surroundings add to the sense of connection and true appreciation.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.