The bicentennial of two of the greatest musical geniuses ever, Verdi and Wagner, will be celebrated throughout 2013, especially in New York City.
The Metropolitan Opera is devoting much of its 2012-2013 season to works by the two renowned composers.
The Verdi events are a major part of “Italy in US 2013”, which began in December with Michelangelo’s “David-Apollo” on rare loan to Washington’s National Gallery of Art now through March 3.
Giuseppe Verdi wrote to librettist Francesco Maria Piave in 1860, “I adore this art; and when I am alone and am wrestling with my notes, then my heart pounds, tears stream from my eyes, and the emotions and pleasures are beyond description.”
Experience such pleasures at these performances:
The Metropolitan Opera’s 2012-2013 season has included Verdi’s “Aida”; a glorious new production of “Un Ballo in Maschera“; and will present “Il Trovatore” in January; a new production of “Rigoletto” in January, February, April and May (Met Live in HD broadcast on Feb. 16); “Don Carlo” in February and March; “La Traviata” in March and April; and “Otello” in March.
“Aida” will be performed also in Tulsa and San Diego in April.
Verdi’s “Requiem Mass” will be performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on January 17, 18, and 19, conducted by Daniele Gatti of Italy, and on July 27 at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. In March, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra will perform the mass in Denver.
The City Choir of Washington on April 29 at Lincoln Center will perform a concert drama, “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin”. Jewish prisoners in the Terezin/Theresienstadt concentration camp sang the Verdi “Requiem”. Fellow inmate, conductor Rafael Schächter told the choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”
Verdi composed the Requiem 140 years ago in 1873 in memory of author Alessandro Manzoni.
Verdi, who was born Oct. 10, 1813 in the Italian village of Roncole and died Jan. 27, 1901, had one of the longest and most successful careers of any composer. But even he had a dry spell — for more than ten years. Shakespeare to the rescue. The composer’s final two operas, “Otello” and “Falstaff”, are widely considered as two of the finest ever composed.
Honoring both bicentennials, Metropolitan Opera chief conductor Fabio Luisi will lead the Met in selections from Verdi and also from Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” on April 30.
Verdi wrote of Wagner, whose name he misspelled, “Vagner is not a wild animal as the purists say, nor is he a prophet as his apostles would have it. He is a man of great gifts…”, according to “Verdi: A Biography” by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz (Oxford University Press).
“Verdi and Wagner at 200: A Double Celebration of Genius” is a six-session course by maestro Saul Lilienstein, a frequent lecturer at Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian. It will be held one Wednesday evening each month from Jan. 30 through June 19 at the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center on the National Mall.
Lilienstein will use CD and DVD performances to explore, analyze, and compare the two masters. The event is co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program and the Wagner Society of Washington DC.
Also, “Verdi and Wagner, a Seminar with Maestro Saul Lilienstein”, will be held at DC’s Goethe Institut this spring.
Wagner’s “Parsifal” will be at the Met in February and May (including Live in HD broadcast March 2). Claude Debussy termed “Parsifal” “One of the finest monuments in sound ever to have been raised to the everlasting glory of music.”
The Met also reprises last season’s controversial Robert Lepage production of the complete “Ring Cycle” in April and May, “Das Rheingold“, “Siegfried“, Die Walküre, and “Götterdämmerung“. “New York Times” reviewer Anthony Tommasini called the $16 million, high-tech-machinery-laden “Spin Cycle” the “most frustrating opera production I have ever had to grapple with.”
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) will present two Wagner programs at the Music Center at Strathmore just outside Washington, D.C..
The Feb. 16 program includes selections from “Die Meistersinger”, “Tristan und Isolde”, and “Die Walküre“.
Strathmore’s April 19 program, “BSO: Wagner: Fit for a King — Off the Cuff”, will have excerpts from the “Ring Cycle”, and BSO music director Marin Alsop will discuss Wagner’s relationship with King Ludwig II, a.k.a. “Mad King Ludwig”.
Ach, but Wagner described King Ludwig II as “The man who seems to have been sent to me from heaven!”
And when King Ludwig learned of Wagner’s death, the royal “could hardly control his emotion. ‘Wagner’s body belongs to me!…it was I who first understood him, I who saved him for the world.'” according to the biography “Richard Wagner: His Life, Art and Thought” by Ronald Taylor (Taplinger Publishing Co.)
Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” will be performed in September by both the Baltimore Lyric Opera, and by Opera Roanoke.
In a new biography, “The Sorcerer of Bayreuth: Richard Wagner, his Work and his World” (Oxford University Press), author Barry Millington says he chose that title because “Wagner’s music has the capacity to cast a spell on the listener, to transport him or her to realms of unimaginable ecstasy…”
Millington, chief music critic for the “London Evening Standard” and editor of the “Wagner Journal”, notes that “sorcerer” has a pejorative connotation as well.
“Hovering like a dark cloud, never quite banished, is the baleful legacy of Wagner — specifically the question of his anti-Semitism and the extent to which it is integral to the works themselves,” the biographer writes.
The most notorious, “rabidly offensive” example of that anti-Semitism is Wagner’s essay “Jewishness in Music”.
Wagner’s music, especially the “Ring”, as everyone knows, was appropriated by the Nazis. As Hitler said, recalling a performance of “Lohengrin” he attended at age 12, “I was captivated at once.”
Efforts to “depoliticize Wagner’s works” still continue today, Millington emphasizes in his exquisitely researched, written, and illustrated biography.
“There could be no better opportunity than the bicentenary of Wagner’s birth (May 22, 1863 in Leipzig) to demolish some of these stereotypes once and for all,” writes Millington.
The year 2013 is also the 130th anniversary of Wagner’s death (February 13, 1883).
When Verdi learned of the death, he wrote his publisher Giulio Ricordi, “A great personality has departed, a name that will leave a very powerful impression upon the history of art,” according to the biography “Richard Wagner”.
Although the two masters had never met, Verdi was quoted (in the “Sorcerer” biography) as saying, “Triste–triste–triste. Wagner è morto.” (Sad, sad, sad. Wagner is dead.)
The 200th anniversary of the births of Wagner and Verdi will be celebrated as happily as the Triumphal March of “Aida” and the Wedding March of “Lohengrin”.
Or to quote “Parsifal”, “Open the shrine!”
Doing just that, in honor of both bicentennials and the grand art form itself, the Library of Congress’ Music Division will present “A Night at the Opera” exhibit from Aug. 15 through Jan. 24. The display will be at Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall from Feb. 24 through Aug. 17, 2014.