Monday, May 12, 2008

Thoughts on Kundry

It’s no secret that Parsifal is in my “top 5” when it comes to “favorite operas (not an easy category).

I was therefore, a little incensed when someone suggested to me that the role of Kundry makes only a meager contribution to the opera, that basically she is “limited to the second act” – and therefore could easily be relegated to a “non-entity” type of singer – “or someone just starting out.” He asked “Does Kundry matter?”

Naturally, I couldn’t have disagreed more. I cited Kundry as being one of the most fascinating, perplexing, and ultimately touching roles any singer could want. Not only in each act does she appear creature transformed, but actually transforms before us – an operatic shapeshifter.

The Act I wild woman in no way prepares us for the sultry seductress who of Act II, who is more – far more – than merely a singing siren. Kundry must make us feel her pain, and a good one always earns the sympathies of the audience, putting across her anguish and torture. There is a regality, a superiority over Parsifal as she attempts to entice him and produce the same results she has for centuries – the same way she helped ruin Amfortas.

I have always found her opening screams in the second act to be the ultimate horror of one waking who realizes they are still alive when they would rather be anything but. Then, after all of the blustery chatter and exoticism of the Blumenmadchen, Kundry remerges with her second entrance of the act, and following her "Parsifal Weile!" . . . well, what follows that entrance is simply mindboggling – one of the most powerful, lengthy duets in all of Wagner. In short order Kundry tells Parsifal of Herzeleide’s demise, comforts him, falls in love with him (as best she is able) then alternates between disgust, heartbreak, contempt and longing. Talk about conflicted! All the while, Kundry is simultaneously attempting to continue Klingsor's dirty work, yet, something of the innocent fool really has caught her fancy, captured her even. In that capture she longs for him to – and believes he can - save her, release her from this endless life: Redeemed.

(I always think here, E. Marty ain't got nothing on Kundry!)

What makes all of this even more interesting (to me at least!) is Parsifal possesses pretty much the same conflicts within himself as Kundry. As an audience, Wagner lets us in on something – and we realize Kundry has taught Parsifal a lesson which he doesn't even realize. It’s brilliant really, what Wagner does here. He has woven around this complex, bizarre twisted tale of carnality, rage, torment and hope, one of the great duets in all of
opera: a perfect union of text and music. As bizarre as this may sound, when listening (or watching and listening) to this duet I often forget I'm listening to music at all – my life, my psyche, inextricably linked - intertwined with the experience of Parsifal and Kundry – shutting out entirely the rest of the world and whatever it may hold.

(Okay, I’ve calmed down).

Kundry’s third act can provide a fine singing actress with a most remarkable and rewarding challenge. With almost nothing to sing, she is a major presence, her “silent actions as important to Wagner’s drama as all of Gurnemanz’s endless pronouncements on nature, and forgiveness and redemption. Wagner saw Kundry's role as absolutely necessary in this tale and ultimately, her redemption is, equal to every other element of the opera. No matter how far out the staging may be, we hear it in the music. After hours of conflict, mystery, confusion, rejection, Kundry’s tortured soul finally finds release, and so do we.

So, once again: Does Kundry matter? Hell yeah!


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