Verdi vs. Wagner
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Despite the fact I know this will start a flame war, it is not my intention. Totally.
Well, here are their pros and cons, in my honest opinion:
Very complex: extended the orchestra up to the point of having an instrument invented on purpose for him (the Wagner tuba.) Made opera singers and the orchestra equals, thus demanding more power and volume from singers. Hector Berlioz's influence, however, is undeniable.
Typically simple in his first 20 or so operas, though never crude. Never more important than the singers: sometimes accused of being just a giant guitar. However, it could be extremely effective while subtle and sometimes extremely innovative, like the description of the stormy weather in Rigoletto, which predicted Debussy by 50 years. Became increasingly complex and by the time of Aïda and especially Otello, it had equaled Wagner's.
Demanded greater power from singers in order to equal the orchestra in volume: extremely long roles were and are very taxing on singers, who need to be specialized. However, he understood the human voice extremely well and this is evident in his vocal parts. He didn't favor personal displays of virtuosity and no singer should take liberties with his music.
Gradually ended the old belcanto tradition of embelishments of the vocal line, changing it so it required more stamina and less agility. He very much followed the italian tradition of the singers' opera for years, but he never let it interfere with the drama or purpose of the music. With time, vocal writing reflexed evolution within a character over the course of a work (Violetta, in la Traviata, begins as a shallow party loving woman, singing corolatura and embelishments, but as her emotions develop her vocal line becomes simpler, more direct and more affected, and by Act III is reduced, in a number, to a heartbreaking spoken part.)
When it comes to this field, probably the greatest operatic revolutionary to have ever lived. He represent deeply philosophical tales, with profound meaning, beyond simple human passions, effectively changing the entire face of opera. His unique views of the universe completely changed the art form and opened ways for every single artist that followed him. However, his music dramas are extremely long winded, and if he had a knack for sorting out the effectiveness and pace of scenes and situations, he didn't use it.
Unlike previous composers, often more concerned with what would most impress the public or allow the prima donna to shine, Verdi would be picky about operatic subjects, and even pickier about what libretto came of it. He wanted nothing but dramatically meaningful scenes that would always keep the audience paying attention - one of the reasons he was incapable of ever writing a dull page. He was above all a dramatist of human passions, and his music was so fittingly made for this purpose that unrealistic plots completely made sense with his scores set to them. He was concerned with the human condition and with the experiences of human life. He was never philosophical or religious, neither did he have Wagner's desire of innovation. When Verdi made new things, it was because he felt they were fitting, not because he tried to be innovative on purpose. His characters were vehicles for humanity and not for idealism or the expression of something larger. Above all, he was never concerned with an intellectual message. He considered art to be spontaneous, natural and simple, or otherwise it wouldn't be art. Like with Wagner, love and death are important themes in Verdi's operas. Gilda, Leonore, Violetta, Aida, Desdemona... like Isolde and Brunhilde, these are women who love and sacrifice themselves as well. But unlike Wagner, Verdi never wrote symbolic or mythical deaths. His characters are human and, as human, perfectly believable.
THE MUSIC IN GENERAL
After receiving harmony lessons from Liszt, Wagner expanded the hungarian pianist's view on musical innovation even further. Wagner's music is deeply chromatic and complex, using harmonies rarely, if ever, before seen, and expanding the concept of the leitmotif to new heights. Every single composer that followed him, up to the avant-garde spirit of the 20th century, was in some way influenced by him, and the whole of musical europe was divided between wagnerians and non-wagnerians. Wagner represent the climax of the romantic tradition and would gradually lead it to post-romanticism, with the goal of ending any superficiality in music.
Up until his late career he remained free of Wagner's influence (and when he was finally influenced by him, it happened neither directly nor on purpose) and his music remained diatonic. Simplicity was his most valued ideal, musically and dramatically. He continued the italian cantilena tradition of the belcantist, but brought it to new expressive heights. His music is often accused of vulgarity, which is many times true. But it must be seen that vulgarity isn't a synonym of poor quality. Beethoven himself was vulgar at times: there is such a thing as the vulgarity of greatness. The means he used to achieve his goals, unlike Wagner's, were simple. While Wagner needed an entirely new instrument in order to perfectly describe his dramatic situation, Verdi used the old traditions and old standards in new unique ways that were never used by anyone else, and up to today remain his signature moves. The vulgar oom-pah-pah accompainment he was so often accused of using balanced his inspired melodies perfectly - not Wagner's endless morphing melodies, but extremely simple diatonic melodies that, if banal in a concert context, sound extremely effective on the stage with the careful dramatic construction he made. By the time of Otello, his orchestration had equaled Wagner's in complexity: the oom-pah-pahs were long gone and so was his almost steoreotypical diatonalism, but simplicity remained his key word, even when it was achieved by entirely new ways, such as the four solo cellos in Gia Nella Notte Densa (Otello) or the organ pedal note that begins the same opera and lasts for hundreds of bars. In Otello, Verdi wrote for an heldentenor voice for the first time.