“Rescued from Obscurity: Classical Form and Diegetic Music in Puccini’s Operas”
Friday, Jan. 27th, 2023, 4pm
Presenter: Dr. Karen Messina, UNCG Lecturer in Music Theory
UNCG, Music Building, Room 217
Despite his enduring popularity in opera houses around the world, Puccini’s academic respectability has only solidified in the twenty-first century. Even with a deluge of studies in the last decade, the Puccini problem remains: should he be regarded as a traditional or modern composer? In this presentation, I argue that when Puccini writes diegetic music – which is music
that exists within a portrayed world and is therefore heard by characters as music – he steps inside the drama itself, adopting the persona and producing the work of a composing character. These moments rationalize the presence of Classical phrase structures in Puccini’s otherwise Romantic idiom.
Three increasingly obscure examples of diegetic music illustrate this premise. First, “Ave, sera gentile” from Manon Lescaut (1893) systematically sheds all textual and musical diegetic markers in its nondiegetic repeat. Next, an explicit textual reference marks “Quando me’n vo’” from La bohème (1896) as diegetic despite textual features that typically align with nondiegetic music. Finally, “L’alba vindice appar” from Tosca (1900) relies upon creative interpretation of the passage as a war anthem to explain its emphatically sentential structure and resolve both musical and dramatic deficiencies raised by a nondiegetic reading. Together, these analyses alleviate three levels of obscurity: the presence and function of Classical form in late Romantic opera, the hidden diegetic status of the excerpts from La bohème and Tosca, and the extent of Puccini’s dedication to drama through his use of stylistic variability to convey the work of a fictional composer.
Event followed by a light reception.