Saturday, February 16, 2013

Met's New Parsifal: Broadcast Review


A good Parsifal stays with me for days and last night's prima threatens (happily) to do just that. I remained awake much of the night thinking about what I heard (and wish I could have seen). For the principal roles I cannot imagine a cast better than last nights.

I had reservations about Ms. Dalaymanin the first act, I like a Kundry to be a bit more "pliable" vocally, and at times
Dalayman had a thickness to her sound that I felt occluded the writing.Nonetheless, in Act II, particularly after her first long narration, and her exchange with Parsfial beginning "War dir fremd noch der Schmerz" . . . here was genuine drama between the pair and I sat up straight for the remainder of the act, sometimes with chills, sometimes with tears.

Peter Mattei gave one of the most exposed readings of Amfortas' first Grail narrative in my entire experience, the voice gloriously rich and pouring out with a velvety sheen that made the character's torment all the more heart rending. Emotionally, it felt as if he was holding nothing back and the voice responded in a manner that enhanced every syllable of the text. Beginning with his pained cry/command to keep the grail covered ("Nein! Lass ihn unhenthüllt! Oh!") my heart began breaking for this wounded grail king. I can only imagine the effect it had on the innocent fool . . . going directly to Wagner's directions being alternately petrified, profoundly moved, and transported.


While some felt Jonas Kaufmann in the title role sounded "tired," I heard nothing that would make me think such. That burly, rich sound which annoys some and thrills others, feels just right in this music (perhaps more than any of his other Wagner roles, though his recent Lohengrin was amazing is still resonates with me powerfullly). His scenes with Gurnemanz both in the first and third acts were highlights and there were moments when the flow of one's voice into the
others revealed a quality that made me think they could've been long lost brothers. Act II slowly, but eventually took fire and Kaufmann truly came into his own at that critical moment singing "Amfortas! Die Wunde! Die Wunde!" with a strength and volume (at least over the radio) that altered the course of the story (as it should). This moment of epiphany was truly revolutionary and I FELT Parsifal's transformation immediately. Amazing, really.

Evgeny Nikitin was a tremendous, evil-sounding Klingsor. I was fully amazed at the almost complete change of voice he made from his entrance "Die Zeit ist da." with this almost thin quality - then growing into menacing mastery as he
summons Kundry forth. Nikitin was appropriately chilling. I look forward to (eventually) seeing how he plays this.

I first saw Rene Pape's Gurnemanz in 2003 (meeting him briefly the night before) and I immediately felt in both voice and interpretation he belonged inthe company of Moll, Salminen and Talvela. In the Good Friday music, Pape's Gurnemanz had me in the palm of his hands. The softening of this character from the first act to this is expressed so beautifully and Pape's command of the language ensures certain phrases that can slip by as little more than beautiful noise from non-native singers are turned into magic. This was particularly noticeable in a phrase like Nun freut sich alle Kreatur" where just the way he pronounces the word "Kreatur" is capable of creating a feeling that goes beyond the notes and the text. Far beyond.

I've seen some very mixed reviews so far on the conducting of Daniele Gatti. I liked what I heard, a lot. Sure there were some problems in the opening Vorspiel . . . enough at the very beginning to actually cause me to cringe a
couple of times, as the synchronization between conductor and about half the orchestra struggled to stay together. Finally, at about 5 minutes in (right around when all we hear are the flutes) . . . following a luftpause they all
seemed to pull together and coalesce and I felt the magic I feared I might not hear. A couple of other bumps along the way aside, I felt Gatti's slowish approach worked very well.

Slow, however, was not what we heard at the opening of the second act. Here, Gatti and the band blasted their way through Klingsor's music in a manner that would've made Boulez' head spin . . . it certainly did mine, and I LOVED the
almost dizzying effect Gatti provided here. (No, I don't want to always here it this way, but it was fun, and why not have a little horror house fun here?) I felt the temple scenes worked beautifully, Gatti and his singers finding the right (if frequently slowish) pace and the final moments were sublime.

I read where someone mentioned that listening last night the final sung note of the opera was completely inaudible. Not over my transmission and I've played it several times . . . it's ethereal and floating just the way it is supposed to.

I loved the inteviews with Terrance McNally and first lady of punk (and a personal idol) Patti Smith. Each offered their own thoughts on Wagner in general and Parsifal in particular. Insightful, contemporary and thought provoking from a pair I'd expect nothing less from.

So, all-in-all a terrific night of music making, the Met's musical forces allowing me to hear my favorite work while far away from Lincoln Center. That's a miracle in itself.

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