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Great year for Verdi and Wagner fans

Rush of operas, concerts and recordings celebrate 200th anniversary of composers’ births

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 24, 2013 - 20:08

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The year 2013 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of two great composers, Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).

Even those who are indifferent to classical music can hum one or two of their melodies. Verdi’s “Libamo, ne Lieti Calici,” from “La Traviata” or “La Donna e Mobile” from “Rigoletto”; Wagner’s “Wedding March” or “Tannhuser” are played everywhere ― from year-end parties to weddings and TV commercials.

Verdi’s works include “La Traviata,” “Rigoletto,” “The Troubadour,” “A Masked Ball,” “Aida,” “Othello,” and more. Wagner is famous for “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg,” “The Flying Dutchmen,” “Tannhuser,” “Tristan and Isolde,” and “Lohengrin.”
Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi by Giovanni Boldini. (The National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome) Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi by Giovanni Boldini. (The National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome)
Richard Wagner. (the-wagnerian.com) Richard Wagner. (the-wagnerian.com)

“The reason Wagner and Verdi are loved worldwide is simple ― Verdi was the orthodox Italian opera writer, focusing on good melody lines. If I had to choose just one opera composer, I would pick Verdi because he shows the true essence of what opera is about ― the right amount of beautiful melodies and great lyrics,” said Yoo Jeong-woo, a music critic.

Wagner, on the other hand, was more dramatic. “Wagner weighed on harmony, which resembles that of modern music. He extended the role of the orchestra to a new level ― while the singers were singing their tune, the orchestra would be suggesting another, just like the all-of-a-sudden background music in thriller movies,” Yoo said.

“Orchestras have a difficult time with Wagner’s operas because they requires as high a level of technique as that of a symphony. That’s why Koreans may have heard individual arias or overtures but not the whole opera of Wagner. It is very challenging,” said Hwang Jang-won, another music critic.

But this year, the Korean classical music circle is joining the international trend in celebrating the birth of the two great musicians.

C Major Entertainment released “Tutto Verdi,” a recording of the complete works of opera by Verdi, which was recorded over a period of 10 years. It is composed of 27 Blu-ray discs and a booklet. Decca released “Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen (Ring Cycle)” recorded by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra led by maestro Georg Solti in 1958. Both compilation albums are expensive ― Verdi is priced at 760,000 won, while Wagner is 268,500 won. But insiders say the Verdi and Wagner boom is expected to boost the sales.

‘Falstaff’ and ‘Don Carlo’

The Korea National Opera will stage Verdi’s “Falstaff” and “Don Carlo” at the Seoul Arts Center Opera House on March 21-24 and April 25-28, respectively.

‘Falstaff’ is the only comic opera ever written by the Italian composer. Austrian composer Strauss once said, “Falstaff is the pinnacle of modern Italian opera.” Loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” the opera follows the storyline of an old, overweight knight, Falstaff being “reprimanded” by a group of people he played pranks on.

Baritone Anthony Micheals-Moore, one of the best Falstaffs according to the KNO, will be taking the lead role while Herbert Murauer will direct the production. Friedrich Haider will conduct the Korean Symphony Orchestra.

“I don’t think there will be more ‘Falstaff’ coming to Korea. It will be a rare chance to enjoy Verdi’s commedia lirica,” Hwang said.

“Don Carlo,” based on Schiller’s “Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien,” will follow tragedy in the Spanish royal family and portray love, hate, friendship, conspiracy and conflict.

‘Parsifal’

The Korea National Opera will stage Wagner’s opera “Parsifal” for the first time in Korea on Oct. 1, 3, and 5 at the Seoul Arts Center Opera House. The story of an innocent man, Parsifal, saving the life of the king and the Holy Grail is a mix of religious, mythical and other cultural contexts.

Bass Youn Kwang-chul, who is considered one of the best bass singers in the world, should not be missed. Youn, who has performed the role of Gurnemanz, a veteran knight of the Holy Grail, several times in Europe including at the Bayreuth Fest, has reportedly been enthusiastic about performing in his home country, involving himself from the very beginning stage of organizing process. 

“Just to listen to Youn sing Gurnemanz is a great opportunity but having Lothar Zagrosek as the conductor and Pilippe Arlaud as director will be the event of a lifetime,” Yoo said.

Orchestra

Hwang recommended that people go to the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra’s “Great Series” highlighting the two powerhouses.

The nation’s top orchestra led by maestro Chung Myung-whun, will feature “Prelude and Liebestod” from “Tristan and Isolde,” “Tannhuser Overture” as well as “Orchestral Excerpt from Ring” by Wagner Friday at the Seoul Arts Center. On April 26 at the same venue, the orchestra will feature the concert performance of Verdi’s “Othello.”

“The SPO is a fine orchestra and Chung is an excellent concertmaster. It will be a fulfilling moment for both ‘Verdians’ and ‘Wagnerians,’” he said.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)