Born in 1813, Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner share the stage as the greatest composers of 19th-century opera, twin geniuses who embody vastly different national cultures and musical and dramatic signatures. In this series of six evenings, popular presenter Saul Lilienstein traces the parallel development of these composers, using CD and DVD performances to explore, analyze, and compare these iconic musical figures.
JAN 30 The First Operas, 1834–37
Wagner’s Die Feen: This is Richard Wagner at 21, just six years after the death of Beethoven and five years after Carl Maria von Weber’s passing. He draws inspiration from them both.
Verdi’s Oberto: Beyond the strong influences of Rossini and Donizetti, the young composer’s melodic gift and his focus on concise dramatic action are on display.
FEB 27 Finding a Singular Voice, 1841
Verdi’s Nabucco: Italian audiences immediately recognize a new and vibrant musical personality. Looking back on the opera’s triumph, the composer recalled “with this work, my artistic career began.”
Wagner’s Der fliegende Hollander: From the first notes of the overture to the heroine’s climactic leap into the sea, audiences were thrilled—or alarmed—by a new level of sensual expression in the opera house.
MAR 27 Toward a Mature Style, 1846–48
Verdi’s Macbeth: Verdi’s tenth opera was unquestionably his greatest accomplishment to date. In thrilling scenes for Macbeth and his lady, the composer creates music equal in power to Shakespeare’s storytelling.
Wagner’s Lohengrin: With luminescent textures and melodies, Wagner brings the German Romantic style to its climax.
APRIL 24 Lyrical Masterpieces, 1853–56
Verdi’s La Traviata: No opera is more beloved for its humanity than this story of a courtesan’s doomed romance.
Wagner’s Die Walkure: Wagner brings the myths of the gods down to earth and expresses a deep understanding of love.
MAY 22 Of Lovers and Kings, 1858–59
Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera: The composer reaches new levels of sophistication with a masterful mix of tragic melodrama enlivened by comic elements—all set to gloriously memorable melodies.
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde: Wagner creates a synthesis of music and drama, a masterwork that celebrates his release from theatrical and sexual restraints.
JUN 19 The Final Tragedies, 1882–86
Wagner’s Parsifal: In this mystical farewell, orchestral color turns theater into sacred ground. The door opens to Impressionism and the 20th century.
Verdi’s Otello: This full-blooded masterpiece adds new dimensions of passion and dramatic sweep to Shakespeare.
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