One hundred and fifty years after they helped forge their home nations' ideas of pride and patriotism, Wagner and Verdi have proved they can still provoke a bust-up between Germany and Italy.
As opera houses around the world gear up to celebrate the 200th birthdays of the composers – they were both born in 1813 – the decision by Milan's La Scala to seemingly overlook its local hero and instead open its season on Friday with Wagner's Lohengrin has sparked angry criticism.
The theatre's decision to opt for Wagner, whose pounding operas were the soundtrack for German unification, over Verdi, whose uplifting works inspired Italy's own Risorgimento, comes as Italians feel the bite of austerity policies they see as dictated by Berlin, a humiliation lightened only by Italy's beating of Germany in the European championships this summer.
"This choice is a smack for Italian art, a blow for national pride in a moment of crisis," Milan's daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera, declared, claiming there was disquiet in the orchestra at La Scala, where Verdi made his professional debut. "Would the Germans have inaugurated a Wagnerian year with a work by Verdi?" asked the paper.
Peter Conrad, the British author of Verdi and/or Wagner, a study of the lives of both men, agrees. "As La Scala's musical director and a Wagner specialist, [Daniel] Barenboim has put his tastes ahead of Italy's," he told the Guardian. "This reminds me of how a German banker paid for a bust of Wagner to go up in Venice at the start of the 20th century before the local town hall then shamefully put up one of Verdi next to it. Italy gets trampled on because it is not good at celebrating its own culture."
However, Stéphane Lissner, La Scala's general manager, pointed out that next year the theatre will stage five works by Wagner against eight by Verdi and open next season with Verdi's La Traviata, "which is chronologically exact, because Verdi was born in October, while Wagner was born in May," he said. "The rest is just stupidity and ignorance." Moreover, Barenboim – a Wagner expert – was only free this month, he added.
Barenboim has chimed in, saying: "What difference does it make inaugurating the season with one or the other when almost all the works of both will get performed?"
Continue Reading at: The Guardian