Saturday, September 24, 2011

Verdi/Wagner Rivalry Part 1

Verdi and Wagner did not get into boxing matches. However if they had met each other, they would have. They did not like each others music. Wagner referred to Italian opera as Donizetti and company. He was fond of Bellini, and even arranged a bass aria from Norma. Bellini was the big exception to Wagner's distaste for Italian opera. Bottom line is Wagner did not like opera that was contemporary with his. Especially operas that were successful such as those of Verdi. Verdi could not stand how long Wagner's operas were in length, and how long he spent developing an idea. The way Verdi and Wagner composed operas was very different from one another. Wagner used the orchestra as a separate entity to the voice, not purely to accompany the singers. The way Wagner composed operas can be compared to the way Robert Schumann composed lieder. The orchestra was a critical part of Wagner's operas. For example, in every opera in Wagner's ring cycle, the orchestra could play the entire opera without the singers as a long orchestral piece by itself. Schumann viewed the piano part as essential in his lieder. In his lieder, the piano parts could be piano solos. Verdi's writing was very different. The Italian style of opera views the singers as the most important entity. I am not sure if Franz Schubert had that view. However, when the voice is involved in his lieder, the piano purely accompanies. So, I assume that Schubert viewed the voice and piano as separate entities. Verdi's orchestra is much smaller than Wagner's, although he increased the size of the orchestra in his later operas. However, when singers are on stage singing the orchestra is purely accompanying the singers. Arias in Verdi operas are in the form of recitative and aria. The aria stops the action, and there is time for applause at the conclusion of the aria. In Wagner, there are arias, but they do not stop the action unless they are done in concert. Verdi's arias give the action a place to stop, because there is an important stopping point indicated by a gesture such as a high note, or important word to indicate the end. In Wagner that is more difficult because the action does not stop. Brunnhilde has a huge scene in Gotterdammerung called the Immolation scene. She throws herself into the fire at the end of that scene. It is magnificent, but if the audience starts applauding she would have to come back to life. Not very realistic. After Flying Dutchman, Wagner was strict about not having arias stop the action, and not being in the Italian style. However, he was an incredible genius, as was Verdi. Therefore, he could write an Italian recitative and aria with the best of them. Wolfram's song of the evening star is a big exception, because it is an Italian style aria with a clear stopping point. To prove this point even further, a lot of Italian baritones from the past used to sing this aria in translated Italian. Musically, Verdi and Wagner were wildly different. Although, the one thing they had in common was that they both improved with age. Verdi's operas were often based on events in history, or fictional plays by playwrights such as William Shakespeare. Wagner's were based on legend or mythology. Verdi always had a librettist with whom he worked closely. Wagner wrote all his own librettos. The use of the orchestra was completely different between these two giants. Verdi used it as an expressive tool to increase the tension of the drama on stage. Wagner used the orchestra as an essential element to the characters, ideas, themes and plot. It is astounding that these two giants lived at the same time.

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