When Carnival meets opera: The best operatic titles that refer to the Carnival
Anything goes at Carnival time! During this festive season that occurs before the liturgical season of Lent, people set aside their everyday individuality and experience a heightened sense of social unity allow. Participants often wear costumes and masks that display exaggerated features such as large noses, bellies, mouths and indulge in mock battles, food fights, social satire, mockery of authorities. The Italian tradition of wearing masks dates back to the Venice Carnival in the 15th century, and has been an inspiration in Greek theater and Commedia dell'arte for centuries.
The opera tradition cannot therefore be an exception. There are many operatic titles in which more or less explicit references to the Carnival or to the imagery of the masks of the Commedia dell’Arte appear, for example: Benvenuto Cellini (1838) by Hector Berlioz which then resulted in the most famous orchestral overture Le Carnaval romain (1852), the operetta Der Karneval in Rom (The Carnival in Rome) (1873) by Johann Strauss, Le maschere (The Masks) (1901) by Pietro Mascagni and Arlecchino, oder Die Fenster (Harlequin, or The Windows) (1917), by Ferruccio Busoni.
Verdi's masterpiece, La traviata, is set in Paris during the Carnival period. As Annina says in the third act: “Paris is going mad - it's carnival.” The composer places the Parisian Carnival in the background at the climax of the story and the cheerful and carefree spirit of the party appears, in comparison with Violetta's pain and unhappiness, superficial, inappropriate and conflicting. Upon the arrival of Alfredo, ready to beg for Violetta's forgiveness, the joy of the procession could also involve the two found lovers, if only the tuberculosis had not finally killed the sweet and faithful Violetta.
La traviata is based on Dumas' novel La Dame aux camellias. It should be noted that here the death of Marguerite Gautier-Violetta was placed in another period of the year. Verdi chose the Carnival to create a profound emotional contrast - which is the fundamental meaning of his opera - between the motions of the soul of the protagonists and the outside world, already represented by the sumptuous scenes of parties, laughter, entertainment, dances and toasts.