Puccini’s operas are among the highest form of art and I personally find them sublime, along with some of the works of Donizetti, Bellini, and Giordano. However, the towering composers of opera are considered to be Verdi (Italian) and Wagner (German) and others live in their shadow.
Much as I love Puccini, I would not argue with the global assessment by those closely involved. However, just a few days ago, a slightly intoxicated Londoner assured me that “Puccini will always live in the shadow of Verdi.”
But how can such wonderful music be in the shadow of anything? Are Haydn and Mozart ‘in the shadow’ of Beethoven? Are Murillo and El Greco ‘in the shadow’ of Velazquez? Surely not.
In many walks of life and over several centuries, the scrutiny of experts and common opinion has given us clear ‘front-runners’. But those who really live in their shadows are usually those whose obscurity is the result of a far lower level of talent.
Among athletes, Muhammed Ali has widely declared the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT). But how can a boxer, however sublime his style and whatever his achievements, be compared with athletes from other sports, such as Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Steffi Graf? And do the achievements of Joe Frazier and Rocky Marciano live in the shadow of anybody, including Ali?
We don’t yet know who will be the GOAT in men’s tennis. But the race is so close between Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic that none of them will be shadowed. We should not forget that, barring his injuries, Murray would most probably be right up there with them.
However, many great inventors and scientists, etc have been pushed into the shadows – in so far that they are not as well-known as others in their field, although they were there first.
Darwin seems to have succeeded in pushing Alfred Russel Wallace into the shadows through alleged plagiarism. Darwin is much more celebrated than Wallace, although it was probably the latter that developed the original theory of evolution. George Stephenson introduced the Rocket in 1829 and his name is known all over the world. But the first steam engine was built by Richard Trevithick in 1802. He lives on in the shadow of Stephenson – in that his name is not so widely known.
Only Gene Kelly, of all-male dancers, is not shadowed by Fred Astaire. Apart from Michael Jackson, with a totally different style, who else is there in the same class?
This is the result of trying to rate or rank people and their achievements, regardless of personal taste and opinion. It should not really matter whether Verdi’s operas are regarded as ‘better’ than those of Puccini. So, when I next hear an aria from La Boheme or Madame Butterfly, Tosca, or Turandot, it will not enter my head that Verdi is held in higher esteem by a majority of aficionados.
David Worboys’s opinions are his own and are not necessarily representative of those of the publishers, advertisers, or sponsors.