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In Canada: Verdi sells, Wagner doesn't

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 27 January 2013 | 12:11:00 am

Verdi in your freezer?
“I don’t think that in our community, a season of Wagner would work at all. I think I’d be looking for another job.”Bob McPhee
Sometimes one is left a little confused by both opera houses and their directors. For example, in the UK this year - when the media will be giving an enormous amount of space to Wagner - its two main houses will not be staging any Wagner at all. Well, the ROH will but not till the end of the year and they are still to admit it officially. 

There are all sorts of reasons given for this but perhaps the most nonsensical  is that companies will not  fill seats in  theatres with Wagner's productions. Yet this seems clearly to not be the case. When , for example, one visited the Ring at the ROH, Tristan at WNO, Walkure at ON, or Gotterdammerung at LFO there was hardly an empty seat. Indeed, in many cases one would have struggled to buy a ticket. And let us not get into any discussion about the meaning and purpose of "Art"  - to save our sanity. 

With this in mind, we note the following from today's Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail - misconceptions of all kinds included - free :

Verdi and Wagner duke it out for hearts – and theatre space

Calgary Opera is better known for championing new works than for clinging to proven favourites. So when general director Bob McPhee decided to turn the entire current season into a bicentenary binge of operas by Verdi, he prepared for criticism, which never came. “There was no reaction from anyone like, ‘Oh my God, a whole season of Verdi?’ – even through telemarketing,” McPhee says.

But he would never have considered a full season of works by another titan with a big round number to celebrate: Richard Wagner, also born 200 years ago. “I don’t think that in our community, a season of Wagner would work at all,” McPhee says. “I think I’d be looking for another job.”
That’s the way it is for these two operatic giants: Verdi brings people in, Wagner stirs them up. Wagner gets the headlines, not always for the happiest reasons, while Verdi goes on filling theatres with works that companies depend on year after year. They’re both titans of the genre, able to command passionate responses, which is why McPhee hints that we can expect some Wagner from his company very soon.
But do Verdi, even in a wacky production, and you’re taking care of business in a time-honoured way. Make a move on Wagner, and you expose yourself to the risks, extremes and general weirdness of hanging with the last bad boy in the 19th-century pantheon.
Yet Wagner’s influence was much greater and longer-lasting, in music and across the arts, as well as in politics.
He was the one who turned the sociable theatres of his time into the hushed, darkened temples of aesthetic contemplation we know today. He insisted that art should be life-or-death work for everyone involved, and the lesson sank in.
“Before, music strove to delight people,” Tchaikovsky complained after attending the first Ring performances, in 1876. “Now, they are tormented and exhausted.”
The gruelling art-is-everything attitudes spouted by painter Mark Rothko in John Logan’s play Red are basically updated Wagnerian dogma, displayed in another way by the stark factory-like spaces of many galleries. But among this country’s large-scale opera producers, only the Canadian Opera Company (which opens its production of Tristan und Isolde on Tuesday) and l’Opéra de Montréal (which did The Flying Dutchman last fall) have any Wagner on their bills this season. All other Canadian companies except Vancouver Opera are doing Verdi, as they do most years. The COC has done eight different Verdi operas since its Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006, but is only now returning to the composer whose Ring cycle launched the building.