Traipsing the Line
The Dark Lord, Verdi, and the Barbarian King, Wagner, are now considered to have been the greatest operatic imperials in the history of the sound universe. Their world, populated in part by giants, dragons, troubadours, Egyptians, and French people, never fails to electrify the imagination of one who visits it often. Its atmosphere overpowers the emotional being, crushing the fragile and inspiring sugar and salt cravings in the strong. What's more: the moment one enters it, one enters its great war. The powers of the barbarian king and the dark lord battle to win the devotion of opera lovers at all times. Still, while millions have chosen one or the other as master, standing at odds with their fellow men, there are a few who have ignored the tempting aurae of YouTube arguments and taken a most dangerous and most fascinating position on the very line between the realms, where the two legendary titans' concepts of shadow and light converge. I happen to be one of these, who take dancing steps from one dominion to the other with the touch of a song title on an iPod screen. I'm one of these, who wonder what the meaning of this question is: Was Wagner or Was Verdi the better composer? This question has been a hot one for awhile now, the significance of each considered, the bicentennial of their listeners' rivalry recently celebrated in 2013. It is the question that has fed the war for more than a century, keeping all who wonder when it will end in near-constant suspense.
Genesis of a Revolution: The Barbarian King
Wagner assumed his royal title in 1848, trading a crown for the gold from which, in 1852, he would forge a ring imbued with the power to influence the future. He took some of the light of his planet's sun and placed it into a mold of his own making. He threw it into the mountain called "Gesamtkunstwerk," which stands at the center of his empire to this day. A hero, a dragon, a princess, a knight, and creatures of a long lost kingdom of gods descended the peak. They began to yell at each other and pound on anvils and set fires and make poison for the first time (Georg Solti and Wilhelm Furtwangler helped to insure that they'd keep doing that over and over again.). They made so much noise that the people of other planets heard them and formed opinions about their sounds, some very, very good and some cussing- YouTuber bad. Those who were captivated by his power didn't mind that he was no friend to Jews or Italian composers (except one of the old masters of the dark lord, Verdi's, magic who was called Bellini) or people to whom he owed money, nor did they care that his sights were on the complete annihilation of all other musical forces in the sound universe at his time. Indeed, his character could be summed up in words that kids of the suburbs aren't allowed to say, but his empire and the magic he controlled were marvelous, if in a small sense, even to his enemy on the other side of his world (not that Verdi would ever have said that to his face), who held the same ideal as Wagner: drama propelled and illustrated by music. Wagner bestowed upon a few of his martian guests some of his ring's power, and from their own planets they communicated his ideas to one another until, in a short time, the sound universe began to change.
Monteverdi's Heir: The Dark Lord
In 1850, dark lord Giuseppe Verdi conjured up a hunchbacked jester that one of his friends in the universe of literature, Victor Hugo, had been forced by chilly beings called "censors" to abandon, and invited him to a ceremony of the most sinister necromancy. Together, he said, they would summon a force that had been dead in the sound universe for hundreds of years: human nature. Verdi was the great heir to the first lord of the operatic solar system to which his planet belongs, Claudio Monteverdi, so he didn't believe as Wagner did that operatic epics with enormous orchestras and vocal music that was driven by leitmotifs rather than the tunes of arias was what the future needed. However, he knew that the flesh and blood creatures of the sound universe needed to be reminded of what they were through the marriage of straightforward, raw emotion and the colors of a voice blended with an orchestra. He involved a duke and a young woman in the ritual, combined light from the planet's sun and moon, and, with the strength he'd gathered, was able to produce a great shadow from a constantly stormy lake in his kingdom that held a magic called "drama." The shadow floated toward the sky and expanded, permanentizing the night in all of Verdi's lands. Out of the waters of the lake emerged such characters as had not been seen in the sound world before and were now able to thrive: a scheming royal couple, a murderous gypsy mother, unforgiving hero-types, a fatally jealous princess, and others that stepped to separate rhythms of striking dark harmonies. Their screams broke through the atmosphere of Verdi's planet, and with the sounds travelled the power that had created them. Before long, an army of listeners started to form in his territory, an army motivated by the hypnotic spell his melodies, which continue to stick in the minds of even those in the sound universe who have no love or profound knowledge of the operatic solar system, cast.
Today, I stand on the line between the realms of Verdi and Wagner. I know that the barbarian king's, Wagner's, revolution was necessary to the evolution of music, which must continue if opera's every possibility is to become known, and what a thrilling revolution it is to hear, all of its sounds devouring a listener's emotional center like the sublingual tablet said listener needs when he's had his fill of it! However, the music of the dark lord, Verdi, exists to show us what human qualities wait eagerly to be revealed at the touch of the right musical magic. Like the two sides of their planet are the sides of our inner selves, and, in the opinion of this blogger, to live without either one is to live as a half- man, half-inspired by half the picture of what OUR world, as painted in operatic sounds, is.
Image by Tom Harnish, protected under the creative commons here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/