Verdi And Wagner

This show is a rebroadcast from January 26, 2012.

The opera “therapist,” the opera “terrorist.” Two greats. We’ll listen in with critic Peter Conrad.

In this April 2, 2009, file photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera, veteran American bass James Morris as Wotan stands over Swedish soprano Irene Theorin as Bruennhilde during the final scene of Richard Wagner's "Die Walkuere" during the final dress rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (AP)

In this April 2, 2009, file photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera, veteran American bass James Morris as Wotan stands over Swedish soprano Irene Theorin as Bruennhilde during the final scene of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walkuere” during the final dress rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (AP)

The two great opera superstars of the 19th Century were almost absurd distillations of their separate cultures.  Wagner, the ultimate German, with his work all horned helmets, spears, and steel breastplates.  Brünnhilde.  Verdi, the lush Italian.  All silken hats, embroidered slippers, arias and love.  The grand humanist.

Their operas could be the soundtrack of the great North-South euro-crisis divide right now.  Scholar Peter Conrad puts them side-by-side.

This hour, On Point:  grand opera magic – Verdi v. Wagner.

-Tom Ashbrook


Peter Conrad, a cultural critic, he’s the author of Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries.

From Tom’s Reading List

The Daily Telegraph “A battle is engaged: Verdi, the resident of “the middle ground, our human terrain”, versus Wagner, the shuttler “between mountain peaks and the river beds”. Verdi, the responsible Italian national hero, versus Wagner, the annihilating revolutionary who wanted to burn down Paris. Verdi, the melodic soother of nerves, versus Wagner, the chromatic agitator. Verdi, the businessman, versus Wagner, the sponger. It’s cultural criticism as tennis and it quickly leads to a kind of mental neck ache.”

The Washington Independent Review of Books “If the lovers in “Tristan und Isolde”had been Italian, by the end of the second act “they would already have seven children, but they’re Germans, so they’re still talking.” So quipped conductor Arturo Toscanini after hearing the second act of Wagner’s opera. His remark comes close to capturing the stark difference between the two composers who are the subjects of Peter Conrad’s Verdi and/or Wagner. The laconic Italian Verdi wrote music dramatizing the need of imperfect human beings for intimate connectedness, while the expansive German Wagner stressed the hegemony of the individual and “the mind’s proud solitude,” as Conrad puts it. Can one love them both?”

The Guardian “Near the end of this heavyweight, densely written comparison of the two greatest opera composers of the 19th century, Peter Conrad discusses the place of Die Walküre in Apocalypse Now, and of La Traviata in Pretty Woman. He concludes that “Hollywood of course adheres to the customary division between the two composers: Wagner is a terrorist, Verdi a therapist”. Despite the slightly curled lip implied by “customary”, Conrad doesn’t much disagree with the Tinseltown summing-up of his subjects.”

Video: Why Verdi and Wagner are Top Ten

New York Times classical music critic Anthony Tommasini, on why both Verdi and Wagner made his list of the Top 10 Greatest Composers:

Video: Verdi’s Rigoletto

Opera greats Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti sing Bella Figlia Dell’Amore in this clip.

Video: Pavarotti Sings La Traviata

Watch tenor Luciano Pavarotti sing Verdi in this 1993 concert from Brindisi, Italy.

Video:  Wagner’s The Valkyrie

Here’s a video of the Metropolitan Opera’s rendition of Wagner’s The Valkyrie.


“Götterdämmerung,” Ring Cycle by Wagner

‘Bella figlia dell’amore’ from Rigoletto, Act III by Verdi

Act II, Scene I  from Die Walküre by Wagner

Ride of the Valkyries, from Die Walkure by Wagner

“Gualtier Malde caro nome,” Rigoletto by Verdi

Prelude to Tristan und Isolde  by Wagner

‘Libera Me’ from Requiem by Verdi

‘Du siehst, das ist nicht so’ from Parsifal, Act III by Wagner

finale from Falstaff by Verdi

“Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiff” (Akt II) by Wagner

Patriotic chorus from Nabucco (by Muti) by Verdi

Prelude from “Das Rheingold” by Wagner

From Act IV of ‘Otello’  by Verdi

“Erlösung Dem Erlöser!” from Parsifal by Wagner

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