Wednesday, 20 March 2013
They share the birth year and a masterful talent that catapulted them to the forefront of the history of music. There is no record of them ever having crossed in life. But they were companions in time and brilliant artists in a romantic Europe shaken by major social and political upheav als. Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi were born in 1813: the first in the German city of Leipzig on May 22nd; the second in Roncole, Italy, on October 10th. A self-taught complete artist, Wagner was a composer, orchestra director, poet and musical theorist. With his “musical dramas” based on the concept of “total work of art” (Gesamtkunstwek) – which would be the synthesis of all artistic languages – Wagner revolutionized the genre of opera. He wrote his own librettos, providing the works with a dramatic continuum in which stands out the flow of leitmotifs (Leitmotive) interwoven in a speech of a symphonic nature. Verdi, who had regular music lessons, did not write the librettos, but worked in close collaboration with his librettists. He took advantage of the canons of Italian tradition to transform and innovate in the pursuit of dramatic truth and r ealism. Wagner moves within the mythical universe of the medieval legends of Scandinavian origin, while Verdi draws on historical themes portrayed in novels or plays. Both were born in humble families, but the threads of fate crossed in favour of their vocations. In Wagner’s childhood, his stepfather – an actor, painter and poet – played a determinant role. By his influence, he woke early for the Arts, in particular Literature, his first passion. He was fascinated by the works of Weber and Beethoven, which eventually imposed music in his life. He begins to reveal traces of his strong musical personality in the opera The Flying Dutchman, but it is for the teratology The Ring of the Nibelung and the work Tristan and Isolde that the German musician becomes renowned. In The Valkyrie, the second opera of the four that make up the cycle of The Ring, Wagner addresses timeless issues such as the pursuit of love and fight over power. The main character is Brynhildr, one of the nine Valkyrie (demigoddesses, in Norse mythology), daughters of the god Wotan. Encouraged to study music under the protection of a merchant from Busseto who early noticed his talent, Verdi becomes a composer in 1842 with Nabucco, an opera triumphantly taken in by critics and the public. He then initiates an intense period of work that results in works with a guaranteed place in the lyrical repertoire worldwide, as is the case of Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, La Traviata and Aïda. At the age of 80 he composes that which would be his last work and his first comedy: the Falstaff opera, based on Shakespeare. It tells the adventures of the obese Falstaff, an old seductive libertine, who ends up himself being cheated. This “swan song” of his is regarded a masterpiece of musical- -theatrical virtuosity. Verdi died in Milan at age 88. Earlier, in 1883, in the German city of Bayreuth, Wagner had already succumbed to heart problems, before completing 70 years of age, at the peak of his career.
Maria do Céu Novais