Classical Music Guide Forums - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - Written by Donald Isler

David Dubal Lecture - Verdi and Wagner: The Operatic Piano

The pianist, author and radio personality David Dubal, a man so turned on by the arts and so turned off by technology that he sometimes remembers his email address as being at G Major, rather than GMail dot com, has been a lecturer at the IKIF since it started. Frequently, the subject of his annual lecture is a composer whose bicentennial is being observed. Thus, he spoke this time about the very contrasting figures of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner. The program included brief excerpts of recordings of their music, and some terrific live performances as well.

We were told by Mr. Dubal that the ever selfish and egotistical Wagner declared himself the greatest poet of the 19th century, and W.H. Auden called Wagner the greatest genius who ever lived. Indeed, his toxic blend of myths, mysticism and exotic (not to mention erotic) harmonies led Wagner to have an enormous influence over the art of his time, and many artists had what Arthur Rubinstein called "Wagneritis."

Verdi, on the other hand, considered Shakespeare the central god of the human race. He loved the land, and he loved art, especially the creative process. He was very active in working for the unification of Italy.

And whereas Wagner derided Verdi, Verdi respected Wagner's gifts. The two men, incidentally, never met.

Mr. Dubal quoted Verdi as saying "No opera can be sensible, because no one sings when he feels sensible!". Mr. Dubal also said that we can understand nations better through the operas they produce.

Mr. Dubal warned us to beware of the failed artist. He said that Hitler gave up painting after he heard Wagner's opera, Rienzi, and that the score of Rienzi was found in the bunker where Hitler committed suicide.

Following a bit of a recording of the Ride of the Valkyries, from Die Walküre of Wagner, we heard Maria Callas sing, with incredible agility and charisma, Sempre Libera, from Verdi's La Traviata, with Giuseppe di Stefano. Later, we heard the unique timbre of the voice of Luciano Pavarotti, in an aria from Aida, and still later, the gorgeous voice of Zinka Milanov, singing Pace, Pace Mio Dio, from La Forza del Destino.

All of the live performances were very fine, indeed.

Joseph Smith played the C Major Album Leaf of Wagner, which was lovely. The piece is very much Wagnerian, if on a smaller scale than we hear in his operas, with virtually continuous ornamentation and restlessness, and an almost endearing (Can one call anything of Wagner's endearing?!) resistance of simplicity. It also reminded me of the beautiful recording of Wagner's Albumblatt Sonata in A-Flat Major by my teacher, Bruce Hungerford. The two pieces have some resemblance to one another, though Mr. Smith later told me he thinks the Sonata is too long.

Aviva Aranovich gave a powerful performance of the Miserere from the Liszt transcription of Verdi's Il Trovatore. Though she pummeled the bass to great dramatic effect, she never produced a harsh sound, and her command of the complicated passagework was always assured.

Jeremy Jordan, a 21 year old student of Mr. Dubal from Chicago, played his own transcription of the Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung. It was brilliant, ingenious and, one could say, neo-Lisztian, ranging, emotionally and dynamically, from a bleak, end of the world mood to a huge sound, and using every technical device available to the virtuoso.

The final performer was Anna Shelest, playing the Wagner/Liszt Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. She was sensational! One couldn't imagine this music played any better. It was powerful yet sensitive, passionate, but with gorgeous, ethereal sections filled with that "drugged" calm that is often part of Wagner's music.

What will be the subject(s) of Mr. Dubal's lecture next year? The 100th anniversary of the birth of Irving Fine? The 150th of Richard Strauss? The 300th of CPE Bach and Christoph Willibald Gluck? Mr. Dubal will certainly come up with something. Then, of course, in 2015 it will be time for the Earl Wild Centennial!

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