Musical Exoticism of Opera in the 19th Century

Opera is a unique genre of art which uses the great variety of different methods to influence the viewer and make an impression much more stronger. It is a strange mixture of singing, acting, dancing and all other known remedies. Costumes also play a great role in this performance as they help to convey national character and underline peculiarities of the epoch. However, not only appearance helps to distinguish nationality and peculiarities of the character presented on the stage. Composers often use such notion as musical exoticism in order to underline national peculiarities of the chosen folk and create the musical image of the outland inhabited with some unknown and mysterious men. In this terms musical exoticism often makes eastern people very severe, bloodthirsty and revengeful describing their women at the same time as mysterious and beautiful, which has an overwhelming power over men because of their strange eastern charm. Often being rather far from the truth, these stereotypes however are widely used by composers. They often involve some strange and uncommon elements in music to create the stereotypic sound image of the described nationality.

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In Il Torvatore by Verdi the composer “reproduces nearly all of the stereotypes, positive and negative, mentioned above”1. In his great creation he followed the main idea of gypsies which was actual in the society at that moment. It can be easily observed in shift in music. The background music of all gypsy characters serves to underline their difference from the rest of the characters in the opera. These shifts are connected with differences in key and mode and the whole mood of the extract. While introducing gypsy character the composer also creates the mysterious Eastern atmosphere as he understands it. Verdi was not trying to reveal the actual image of Spanish Gypsy, as he was not interested in it. The thing which was very important to him was their ethnic background which could add some music exoticism to the opera and make it sound unusual. The difference is quite obviously seen in the comparison of the music background for Azuenca and Manrico, her adopted son. Azuencas part Stride la vampa!2 is supported with plangent music, her song is very emotional though it is full of some mystery and charm. In the end it is supported with mens chorus which makes it more passionate. However, Manricos part Di quella pira3 is different. Being adopted, he is not gypsy in his nature. The composer shows the viewer this difference through the music. Musical background of Manricos part is lack of this mystery. He sings emotional, however there is no sign of some melancholy in his words. Music differs from Azuencas part greatly, underlining the great gap between two ethnicities. Musical background of Manricos part sound totally European, while Azuencas is full of musical exoticism.

Opera Carmen by Georges Bizet is very similar to Il Torvatore by Verdi in this issue. Relations between Spanish Gypsies and other Europeans is the main topic of this work too. It focuses on two stereotypes connected with Gypsies “the criminal activities of Gypsy men (here smuggling) and the beauty and audacity “the sexual availability and wantonness of the Gypsy women”4. The music of this opera brilliantly represents the emotions of the characters and their personalities. Carmen, beautiful and desirable gypsy women seduces Jose, a common Spanish soldier. The whole action centers around the events connected with it. Musically opera has already mentioned musical exoticism. Bizet introduces it to his work to underline the national character of his central figure and play on its stereotypes. Carmen in her part Habanera5 sounds the same emotional as Azuenca, with some hidden mystery. However, the general emotional background of the opera is much more higher. Carmens singing is supported by very strong and emotional beats of music, sounding energetic and even furious. The chorus which echoes her makes it even more solemn and pride. Joses part Flower Song6 on the contrary sounds powerful but in different way. The listener can hear just powerful sound of his voice without such great musical background which shakes with its ethnicity. In Bizet’s understanding, Spanish people, being very emotional too, however cannot compete with Spanish Gypsy and Carmen and Jose perfectly illustrate that. His total despair and Carmens murder only underline the emotional gap. He cannot follow the mood of passionate Carmen.

Two operas Carmen and Il Torvatore both explore the theme of relations between roman people and Spanish solders. They are both based on the stereotypical image of eastern people which was actual at that time. However, there is still difference between these two operas. Exploring the musical exoticism Verdi created the image of the dangerous, mysterious though proud folk and the end of his opera proves it, while Bizet tries to present it form the other point of view, making Carmen the main reason for all Joses tribulations. Her passionate Eastern character made brave solder break the law and kill her. Pernicious influence of Spanish Gypsies on local men is showed brightly in the final scenes of the opera.

Bibliography

Bizet, Georges. Carmen. Act I – Habanera (Carmen). Web.

Bizet, Georges. Carmen. Act II – “Flower Song” (Don José) Web.

Locke, Ralph. “Gypsy Characters and Poor Andalusians.” Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2009. 160-162..

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Locke, Ralph. “The Roma (Gypsies) in Life and Image.”. Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2009. 154-156.

Verdi, Giuseppe. Il Trovatore. Act II: Aria (Azucena, “Stride la vampa!”) Web.

Verdi, Giuseppe. Il Trovatore. Act III: Aria, Part 4 (Manrico, “Di quella pira”) Web.

Footnotes

  1. Bizet, Georges. Carmen. Act I – Habanera (Carmen). Web.
  2. Bizet, Georges. Carmen. Act II – “Flower Song” (Don José) Web.
  3. Locke, Ralph. “Gypsy Characters and Poor Andalusians.” Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2009. 160-162..
  4. Locke, Ralph. “The Roma (Gypsies) in Life and Image.”. Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2009. 154-156.
  5. Verdi, Giuseppe. Il Trovatore. Act II: Aria (Azucena, “Stride la vampa!”) Web.
  6. Verdi, Giuseppe. Il Trovatore. Act III: Aria, Part 4 (Manrico, “Di quella pira”) Web.
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StudyCorgi. (2020, October 29). Musical Exoticism of Opera in the 19th Century. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/musical-exoticism-of-opera-in-the-19th-century/

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StudyCorgi. "Musical Exoticism of Opera in the 19th Century." October 29, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/musical-exoticism-of-opera-in-the-19th-century/.

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "Musical Exoticism of Opera in the 19th Century." October 29, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/musical-exoticism-of-opera-in-the-19th-century/.

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StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Musical Exoticism of Opera in the 19th Century'. 29 October.

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