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Watch: Recording of Verdi vs Wagner debate chaired by Stephen Fry streamed live on 15 September

Norman Lebrecht and Philip Hensher debate two musical greats to celebrate the composers' joint bicentenary.

By Lottie Butler (Assistant Content Producer)

5 August 2013 at 5.25pm | 15 Comments

On Sunday 15 September Stephen Fry chaired the Intelligence² 200th Birthday Debate: Verdi vs Wagner at the Royal Opera House. You can now watch a full version of the debate on demand. Read a selection of audience tweets from the debate and add your own thoughts.

From the passionate romance of La traviata to the vast mythical world of the Ring cycle, Guiseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner are undoubtedly two of the greatest opera composers of the 19th century. Although equal in stature, their work demonstrates very different perspectives on art and culture. Verdi’s music includes some of opera's most popular melodies and is felt by some to encompass both high and low culture, while Wagner’s epic compositions are considered by advocates to mark the peak of technical and intellectual genius.

Award-winning writers and cultural commentators Norman Lebrecht and Philip Hensher each championed one of the composers, illustrating their points with musical extracts performed by Southbank Sinfonia with conductor Paul Wynne-Griffiths.

The debate forms part of Deloitte Ignite 2013, Verdi/Wagner. Curated by Stephen Fry, the festival explores the music of Verdi and Wagner in innovative and creative ways. Other events include Inside Wagner’s Head, a one-man show by Simon Callow; a new musical piece based upon the legend of Tristan und Isolde by Julian Joseph; and the chance to take part in a day of workshops celebrating choral music. Find out full details of the programme.

This article has 15 comments

  1. "Verdi vs. Wagner debate"? I don't get it. A debate in which a choice is involved usually implies that there are reasons to choose one over the other. "Coke vs. Pepsi," "Ford vs. Chevy," reading a book vs. seeing the film. As the description states, Verdi and Wagner are equals in which they reflect very different perspectives. Apples vs. oranges. Why choose? I guess I'll have to listen to the "debate" and find out for myself.

  2. KLL responded on 6 August 2013 at 4:40pm Reply

    ^ What he said.

  3. Yoko Arthur responded on 6 August 2013 at 10:21pm Reply

    I would love to gather Wagner Society of Santa Fe friends to watch this debate live online on a big screen. Please tell me if live streaming can be received in the U.S. -- I ask this because I notice some streaming from Europe is blocked for viewing in the U.S. Santa Fe is in the state of New Mexico, U.S.A. - a small town with a famous summer opera festival - and we call it Valhalla of the Southwest. Cheers to you, and thanks! We are on FACEBOOK as Wagner Society of Santa Fe.

    • Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News)) responded on 15 September 2013 at 5:53pm

      Hi Yoko,

      The stream is available worldwide, including the US.

      Thanks,

      Chris
      Content Producer (Social Media and News)

  4. William Pianforini responded on 4 September 2013 at 1:05am Reply

    Cant say I know that much on Wagner, however I am a G.Verdi fan.
    My father was from Parma (Verdi's birthplace)
    and so Verdi was played quite a lot.
    Look forward to see the debate, hope its not too late in the evening ....... catching a flight to Parma the following morning.

  5. Michael Sturgulewski responded on 14 September 2013 at 12:01pm Reply

    I have to admit that there is much in Verdi I like and admire, especially in his final opera. However comparison with Wagner is pretty much a moot point. Wagner clearly surpasses Verdi on all counts...superiority and dramatic relevance of thematic material,and its musical development throughout the work, nearly constant presence of multi-voiced counterpoint, orchestration and overall treatment of the orchestra, quality of librettos (or in Wagner's case, dramatic poems...etc. Verdi by his own admission was a "practical composer," who seemed to be more concerned with success than being remembered as one who nearly single-handedly completely revolutionized what was a rather trivial and dramatically questionable art form and rose it to highest levels of musical and theatrical profundity. To my way of thinking, it is only in Falstaff where Verdi give us a hint of the composer he could have become.

    • Steve Northam responded on 15 September 2013 at 9:36pm

      No.... Not on all counts by any means! Wagner understood how to get more out of the orchestra but I feel the human voice was always a mystery to him.

  6. johs.mortensen responded on 15 September 2013 at 6:53pm Reply

    Wagners music is better than it sounds. (G.S.Shaw?).

  7. German Saucedo responded on 15 September 2013 at 7:45pm Reply

    Verdi was a great composer and better human being.
    Wagner a musical genius, love to hear his music played by an orchestra but hate his vocal lines, I am a romantic tenor, find German a horrible unmusical language. Wagner was not a good human, he was racist and believed in the superiority of the Aryan race, he was a supremacist, he reflected this sick philosophy in his work, he reflects the most horrible past and shameful history of the German nation.

    • Steve Northam responded on 15 September 2013 at 9:33pm

      Here here - my thoughts exactly. Spare a thought too for Giacomo Meyerbeer who was a hugely positive influence on Wagner's early career, only for the latter to vilify him later.

  8. Will this be available to stream after the event?

    • Ellen West (Head of Online Content) responded on 15 September 2013 at 9:11pm

      It will Ben. We'll hopefully put it live tomorrow afternoon.

      Ellen

  9. Yoko Arthur responded on 16 September 2013 at 12:06am Reply

    Hi, Chris, Thanks, too late though. I have to wait for your on-demand streaming. We are 7 hours behind London time, so it's just now getting to be 5:00 pm Sunday, Sept. 15.

    But good to know that your streaming works world-wide. I shall be checking your web site from time to time on what will be live streamed.

    Any chance you can start a email listserve alerting people like us (love what you do but cannot get there easily) of upcoming live streaming? Thanks!

    • Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News)) responded on 16 September 2013 at 10:26am

      Hi Yoko,

      Sorry you missed it, we will have this available on demand soon so you can catch up.
      Do keep an eye on our social media channels as we'll flag events such as this. Also, if you're signed up to our mailing list (by setting up a booking account) you'll get alerts for these via that too.

      Thanks,

      Chris
      Content Producer (Social Media and News)

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