Geniuses come together for Pittsburgh Symphony's 'Verdi & Wagner'
That the two greatest opera composers of the 19th century, Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, were both born in 1813 is a coincidence.
Yes, they came of age at a fortuitous moment in operatic history, when earlier styles had reached a maturity that meant bold innovation was the next step. But writing “Rigoletto” or “La Traviata,” or “Tristan and Isolde” and “The Ring of the Nibelungs” required their individual and different geniuses.
Manfred Honeck will lead soprano Simona Saturova, baritone Gregg Baker, the Mendelssohn Choir and Pittsburgh Symphony in a tribute to Verdi and Wagner at concerts Friday through Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown.
Ticket holders can arrive one hour before the concerts for a free choral session on Verdi's The Anvil Chorus, which will be performed as a sing-along at the end of the concerts.
The first half is devoted to Wagner, including music from “Lohengrin,” “The Flying Dutchman,” “Die Gotterdammerung” (The Twilight of the Gods) and “Tannhauser.”
Four excerpts from Verdi's “La Traviata” open the second half, followed by music from “Nabucco,” “Rigoletto” and “Don Carlo.” The concert will conclude with the Triumphal March and Chorus from “Aida” and The Anvil Chorus from “Il Trovatore.”
“It is so interesting, pairing these two together. They seem to be polar opposites but, in fact, have an enormous number of things in common,” says Christopher Hahn, Pittsburgh Opera's general director and host for these symphony concerts.
Verdi was the practical man of the theater. Wagner was far more philosophically oriented, and came to write in very long-scale musical structures. Yet Wagner also was practical, designing and building a unique opera house that is perfect for his music and that remains home to the Bayreuth Festival, which is devoted to his works.
“What has always been fascinating about Verdi is his extreme understanding of the human voice and the range of voices he was writing for,” Hahn says. “Whilst he could write the sublime coloratura of ‘Caro nome,' with all that languid line that really challenges and shows off a soprano of that type to a scintillating degree, he writes as stunningly for tenors and baritones and basses and mezzo-sopranos.”
Hahn says some of the same could be said of Wagner, except Wagner dispensed with closed form arias in favor of extended passages that pose their own vocal challenges. Verdi, at the end of his life, also dispensed with arias in “Falstaff” but that fast-paced comedy could hardly sound less like Wagner.
The composers differ in their use of the chorus, Hahn says.
“Wagner's writing for choruses takes on a sort of world of its own. The choices for this concert, such as Elsa's procession, are magisterial or visceral or haunting in a really stunning way,” he says. “Verdi's writing for chorus is sublime, such as ‘Va, pensiero,' but, in general, he uses the chorus in a jollier way to create atmosphere, the way he does in The Anvil Chorus.”
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7877.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Divine Travel’ embraces the quirky
- Judy Collins still finds magic in picking music
- Through the years, Rogers keeps his focus on entertaining
- Priory, Downtown, to host benefit for women’s chorus
- Review: Return of McVie gives Fleetwood Mac show a nostalgic boost
- Photo gallery: Gaslight Anthem fires up sold out crowd at Stage AE
- ‘Heroes and Villains’ evokes array of emotions in Pittsburgh Symphony Pops season opener
- Photo gallery: Judas Priest hosts heavy homily in the Steel City
- Bob Seger adds Pittsburgh date to tour
- Pittsburgh Symphony Pops goes to the movies for ‘Heroes and Villains’
- Judas Priest pushes forward, keeps it metal