The expression parola scenica, coined by Verdi in 1870 in a letter to Ghislanzoni, is meant to describe the dramatic quality of an opera text. In order to underline a climax, the composer requires of his librettist the very word that will « hammer in » a situation by making it clear and precise through emotion. To stimulate his librettist’s imagination, Verdi occasionally suggested improvements which were actually taken up by Ghislanzoni. The reader of the two men’s correspondence is thus offered a revealing insight into the musical and dramatic « workshop » achieved by the two artists. What Verdi called parola scenica was obviously not invented by the composer, who merely drew attention to the concept. Not only in Verdi’s own works before and after Aïda, but also in the whole history of opera, numerous examples can be found, notably in Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607), Mozart’s Idomeneo (1781) or Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots (1836).
Unaware of Verdi’s ideas, Busoni also theorised on a specific opera language in his preface to Doktor Faustus (1921). What he calls « catchword », a verbal expression meant as a short, figurative signal not unlike Verdi’s parola scenica, considerably enlarges the notion inasmuch as the function of the libretto is not only to call for the music, but also to mark out the space in which it can develop, thereby creating a new borderline. If the music has nothing to say that corresponds to its true essence, it had better be still and give way to the spoken word and to acting. Busoni uses as an example Offenbach’s Giuletta act in Les contes d’Hoffmann (1881).
According to recent research, parola scenica and « catchwords » describe specific layers of meaning within the plurimedial structure of the libretto text. Both convey aesthetic conceptions in which the visual is regarded as the dramatic raison d’être. These views are ideally illustrated by the Tableau of the Grand Opéra, as seen in the final cathedral scene from Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète (1849), in the middle of which music, text and scenery develop together their own dramatic potentials.
Le livret en question
Ein Schlüsselbegriff der Librettoanalyse : Verdis "parola scenica"