Stephen Fry's latest charming appearance at the Royal Opera House

Stephen Fry's latest charming appearance at the Royal Opera House

I think this event was a groundbreaking step forward in making opera accessible to a new generation. Moderated by our favourite Stephen Fry, the Intelligence² debate was whether Richard Wagner or Giuseppe Verdi reigned as an operatic master. With columnist/blogger Norman Lebrecht backing Verdi and novelist Philip Hensher vouching for Wagner, the debate was part of a celebration of the 200th birthday of both composers. It also features some great performances by young operatic talent, most notably Dušica Biljelić's performance of Desdemona's aria from Verdi's Otello (begins at 35:00).

Verdi comes off as a man of the people, while Wagner gets everyone thinking.

This wasn't a debate in the sense that one side was expected to win; everyone involved acknowledged that the question was not to be as rudimentary as, "Whose operas were better?" The conversation came down to this: what matters more in art, the head or the heart? Verdi comes off as a man of the people, while Wagner gets everyone thinking. The role of power seems to be polar between the two; Verdi makes heroes out of those who stood up to figures of power (think, Aida, Alfredo), and Wagner starts with heroes in the first place (think Siegfried, Lohengrin) Despite a few unnecessary reminders that Wagner wrote unfriendly things about the Jews, and that Verdi conversely wrote them a great chorus, it was an interesting chat that included listeners responses from social media. It's definitely worth a watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16noW1H0yq8

Personal note: I still have a soft spot for Verdi. The aria on repeat in my earbuds these days is the Miserere from Il trovatore. I like this performance.

For more opera fun with Fry, check out his The Science of Opera, where he and comedian Alan Davies go to the opera, and scientists measure their emotional reactions. Super cool.

And here he is talking about the Tristan chord.

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Written by

Jenna Simeonov

Jenna Simeonov

Jenna is the editor and co-creator of Schmopera.com. She's also a pianist, vocal coach, and répétiteur, and working with singers is how she fell in love with opera. Her favourite operas include Peter Grimes, Ariadne auf Naxos, Tristan und Isolde, Written on Skin, and Anna Nicole.

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