Si riporta nei suoi passi salienti un articolo (di non facilissimo reperimento) di George Bernard Shaw, lo scrittore inglese Premio Nobel, che si cimentò professionalmente anche nella critica musicale (con lo pseudonimo Corno di Bassetto).
Si intitola Born-Again Italian Opera, e fu pubblicato su «The World» il 2 maggio 1894. Come si evince dal titolo, è un rapido ma efficace excursus sul periodo che attendeva l’erede di Verdi. E Shaw dimostra di avere grande acume e preveggenza.
Italian opera has been born again. The extirpation of the Rossinian dynasty, which neither Mozart nor Wagner could effect, since what they offered in its piace was too far above the heads of both the public and the artists, is now being accomplished with case by Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Puccini, and Verdi. Nobody has ever greeted a performance of Tristan und Isolde by such a remark as “We shall never be able to go back to L’Elisir d’Amore after this”, or declare that Lucrezia was impossible after Brunhild. The things were too far apart to affect one another: as well might it be supposed that Ibsen’s plays could be accepted as a substitute for popular melodrama, or Shakespeare wean people from the circus. It is only by an advance in melodrama itself or in circuses themselves that the melodrama or circus of today can become unpresentable to the audiences of ten years hence. The same thing is true of Italian opera. The improvement of higher forms of art, or the introduction of new forms at a different level, cannot affect it at all; and that is why Tristan has no more killed L’Elisir than Brahms’s symphonies have killed Jullien’s British Army Quadrilles. But the moment you hear Pagliacci, you face that it is all up with L’Elisir. It is true that Leoncavallo has shown as yet nothing comparable to the melody inspiration of Donizetti; but the advance in serious workmanship, in elaboration of detail, in variety of interest, and in capital expenditure on the orchestra and the stage, is enormous. There is more work in the composition of Cavalleria than in La Favorita, Lucrezia, and Lucia put together, though I cannot think-perhaps this is only my own old-fashionedness-that any part of it will live as long or move the world as much as the best half-dozen numbers in those three obsolete masterpieces.
Shaw intuisce le novità la novità del comporre pucciniano, anche rispetto ai suoi stimati contemporanei:
And when you come to Puccini, the composer of the latest Manon Lescaut, then indeed the ground is so transformed that you could almost think yourself in a new country. In Cavalleria and Pagliacci I can find nothing but Donizettian opera rationalized, condensed, filled in, and thoroughly brought up to date; but in Manon Lescaut the domain of Italian opera is enlarged by an annexation of German territory. The first act, which is as gay and effective and romantic as the opening of any version of Manon need be, is also unmistakably symphonic in its treatment. There is genuine symphonic modification, development, and occasionally combination of the thematic material, all in a dramatic way, but also in a musically homogeneous way, so that the act is really a single movement with episodes instead of being a succession of separate numbers, linked together, to conform to the modern fashion, by substituting interrupted cadences for full closes and parading a Leitmotif occasionally.
L’indagine appunta poi l’attenzione sulle novità armoniche, che in Puccini non vanno a discapito dell’invenzione melodica:
Further, the experiments in harmony and syncopation, reminding one often of the intellectual curiosities which abound in Schumann’s less popular pianoforte works, show a strong technical interest which is, in Italian music, a most refreshing symptom of mental vigor, even when it is not strictly to the real artistic point. The less studied harmonies are of the most modern and stimulating kind. When one thinks of the old school, in which a dominant seventh, or at most a minor ninth, was the extreme of permissible discord, only to be tolerated in the harsher inversions when there was a murder or a ghost on hand, one gets a rousing sense of getting along from hearing young Italy beginning its most light-hearted melodies to the chord of the thirteenth on the tonic.
Puccini is particularly fond of this chord; and it may be taken as a general technical criticism of the young Italian school that its free use of tonic discords, and its reckless prodigality of orchestral resources, give its music a robustness and variety that reduce the limited tonic and dominant harmonic technique of Donizetti and Bellini, by contrast, to mere Christy minstrelsy. No doubt this very poverty of the older masters made them so utterly dependent on the invention of tunes that they invented them better than the new men, who, with a good drama to work on, can turn out vigorous, imposing, and even enthralling operas without a bar that is their own in the sense in which Casta Diva is Bellini’s own; but Puccini, at least, shews no signs of atrophy of the melodic faculty: he breaks out into catching melodies quite in the vein of Verdi: for example, Tra voi, belle, in the first act of Manon, has all the charm of the tunes beloved by the old operatic guardo
Al cospetto della prima grande prova pucciniana, Shaw intuisce la gloriosa carriera del compositore lucchese, nuovo portabandiera dell’italianità che sino allora si era specchiata in Giuseppe Verdi:
On that and other accounts, Puccini looks to me more like the heir of Verdi than any of his rivals. He has arranged his own libretto from Prévost d’Exiles’ novel; and though the miserable end of poor Manon has compelled him to fall back on a rather conventional operatic death scene in which the prima donna at Covent Garden failed to make anyone believe, his third act, with the roll-call of the female convicts and the embarkation, is admirably contrived and carried out: he has served himself in this as well as Scribe ever served Meyerbeer, or Bolto Verdi.