The Royal Opera House in London hosted an Intelligence Squared debate on Sunday on the question of Verdi vs. Wagner, the full video of which has since been posted online.
Cultural critic, novelist and Verdi devotee Norman Lebrecht argues that Verdi is unfairly written off as "just another Italian tunesmith and organ-grinder to Wagner's pantheon of sound." But Verdi was a "novelist who worked in sound," Lebrecht says, and a predecessor to Hollywood film composers. He notes that in his day, Verdi was unfavorably compared with Wagner, "who was the monkey on his back."
Novelist and Wagner worshiper Philip Hensher calls the German composer a "supreme psychologist in opera." He heads off Lebrecht's criticism of Wagner's anti-Semitism by noting that "the 19th century was full of German nationalists, some of whom were undoubtedly extremely nasty. It was also full of Italian nationalists, some of whom were extremely nice." But, he added, "some of the worst operas in the world were written by extremely nice people."
Wagner won the day with 53 per cent of the vote, thanks in part to the debate's chair Stephen Fry, a card-carrying Wagnerian. Watch below and tell us who you think won.
WQXR carries the Royal Opera House broadcasts.