Wagner & Verdi Daniel Snowman
Daniel Snowman is leading Cox & Kings’ In the Footsteps of Wagner and In the Footsteps of Verdi art tours next year. Here, he shares with us some background to himself and the tours. A lecturer at Sussex University, Snowman went on to the BBC where he produced radio features and documentaries on cultural and historical topics. His books include portraits of the Amadeus Quartet and Plácido Domingo; a study of the cultural impact of the Hitler Emigrés; and The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera.
How and why did you become interested in Wagner and Verdi?
The first time I attended a Wagner opera I was swept away by its almost cosmic ambition and intensity. True, the evening was very long, and I remember thinking guiltily once or twice that there were scenes that might have benefited had Wagner tightened them up a tad. But, I realised that the great musico-dramatic climaxes were all the more overwhelming for the fact that you had been made to wait for them.With regards to Verdi, a week or so before my ninth birthday my father took me to my first opera: Verdi’s Rigoletto, a rip-roaring work about sex and murder – two topics I did not yet know much about! However, I was perfectly capable of recognising big, bold Verdian passions as they came pouring across the footlights. Today, well over 1,000 opera performances later, I still find myself deeply moved by a great performance of a great Verdi opera.What do you enjoy most about leading specialist tours such as these?
I get a great kick when given the chance to share my enthusiasms with a group of friendly and like-minded people – most of whom know far more than I do about virtually everything except the subject I am there to tell them about.
What do you most enjoy about visiting Germany for the Wagner tour and Italy for the Verdi tour?The chance to follow in the footsteps of a giant of cultural and operatic history. Many of the people who choose to go on tours such as this know something about the great works. But, actually to go to where the composer lived and worked and was inspired adds a dimension that no amount of book-learning or CD-listening (or even opera-going) can provide.
What part of the tour are you most looking forward to?For the Wagner tour in Germany, it is always exciting to walk the streets of Bayreuth and to see Wagner’s Festival Theatre and the house in which he spent his final years. It is moving, too, to walk the streets of Nuremberg and encounter the statue of that leading mastersinger, Hans Sachs. However, I guess what I am most looking forward to is the chance to attend Tristan und Isolde in Munich in the very theatre in which this, and other Wagner operas, had their world premieres.It is impossible to love the operas of Verdi without visiting La Scala, Milan, the theatre in which several of his works were premiered. I am also looking forward to visiting Le Roncole, the village in which he was born and nearby Busseto where he long resided and his farm at Sant’Agata – and the Casa di Riposo, the home for retired musicians that Verdi founded and in which he and his wife are buried.
If you could only recommend one book to read before departure, what would it be?There are many excellent biographies of Wagner and Verdi that go into detail about the operas, but I always think it important to understand great art in its historical context. If I am honest, therefore, I would suggest people coming on this tour might like to look at my own book, The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera. If they don’t like it, we can still be sure to have many interesting conversations during the course of the tour.