Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Parsifal, Opéra de Nice
02 Feb 2010

Parsifal on the Cote d’Azur

Parsifal had its first performances in Bayreuth in 1882 where it was soon seen by Wagner’s soul mate Friedrich Nietzsche. And there the friendship ended.

Richard Wagner: Parsifal

Parsifal: Gary Lehman; Kundry: Elena Zhidkova; Amfortas: Jukka Rasilainen; Gurnemanz: Kurt Rydl; Titurel: Victor von Halem; Klingsor: Peter Sidhom; Two Knights: Yuri Kissin, Richard Rittelmann; Four Squires: Caroline Mutel, Marie Gautrot, William van der Heyden, Antoine Normand; Six Florwer Maidens: Barbara Ducret, Stéphanie Loris, Marie Gautrot, Catherine Hunold, Caroline Mutel, Lucie Roche. Conductor; Philippe Auguin. Mise en scène and sets: Roland Aeschlimann. Choreography: Lucinda Childs. Stage Director: Dagmar Pischel. Costumes: Susanne Raschig. Lighting: Lukas Kaltenback. Orchestre Philharmonique de l’Opéra de Nice. Choir of the Opéra de Nice. Childrens Chorus of the Opéra de Nice.

Photographs: Ville de Nice / P.Tallon

 

Nietzsche and possibly most everyone else have been ever after bewildered by Wagner’s renunciation of love. After all love had always been the overwhelming motivation for the antics of Wagnerian mythology.

In 1883 Nietzsche began his winter sojourns to Nice and the mild winters of the French riviera where he envisioned his diatribe Nietzsche contra Wagner. But neither Parsifal nor any other Wagnerian masterpieces have been frequent visitors to this gentle climate of subtle sensual beauty. And not only because climatic subtlety and cruel philosophy seem at odds with one another, but also because when Nice re-built its opera house in 1882 the city fathers looked to old Italian theaters as models rather than to the latest theatrical theories and techniques from Bayreuth. Wagner’s mature operas are simply too huge to stuff into a small horse-shoe theater of delicate decoration.

The Opéra de Nice is now considered one of the finest monuments of belle époque architecture. With recent renovations and modifications it adequately serves much of the repertory. But for the really big stuff the Opéra de Nice (the name of the opera company and its theater are the same) takes over the 2500 seat Salle Apollon in what is called the Acropolis, an architectural monstrosity designed in the late 1970‘s that holds five other performing spaces, an exhibition hall and a bowling alley or two as well.

The Opéra de Nice is in transition, its new management transforming it into a somewhat adventurous opera company with a serious production standard. This production of Parsifal was its first adventure, and a striking success. Not that artistic chances were taken — it was the 2004 production from the Grand Théâtre de Genève, the metteurs en scène were the Swiss minimalist designer Roland Aeschlimann and the American minimalist choreographer Lucinda Childs. In Nice their original Geneva staging was realized by Dagmar Pischel who imbued it with vibrant new life.

This superb production was well served by a strong cast, led by Kurt Rydl as Gurnemanz whose dramatic presence never faltered and fortunately his voice gained focus as the afternoon progressed (January 17) making his lengthy narrations a powerful frame for Wagner’s Easter saga. Parsifal himself was American Gary Lehman who has effected a transition from baritone to a splendid heldentenor of total security with power to burn. He was willing to attempt the acting of the innocent fool (surely one of opera’s more thankless tasks) redeeming his seeming dramatic naivete with fine vocal art. Russian soprano Elena Zhidkova defined the many facets of Kundry with dramatic precision, and sang securely and beautifully, her second act seduction and supplication convincingly delivered, her third act submission uncomfortable to watch (Nietzsche would have wretched).

Parsifal_Cote_2.gif

The antagonist was English baritone Peter Sidhom, the truly mad magician Klingsor who raged with Wagnerian élan, and was suitably stricken dumb. Finnish bass Jukka Rasilainen can and did possess a black tinted, i.e. colorless voice, ideal for the pitiful state of Amfortas, and well used to document his long suffering. He was well costumed in dreadlocks and black cloth, and then in white face for his death made poignant indeed with the dead Kundry draped across his lap. These two figures in this touching pietà was the culminating moment of this sculptural production.

Aeschlimann and Childs made this Parsifal a ritual of death, the staging realized in poses and tableaus on a sloping stage platform broken by a long horizontal gash, its fore stage area embossed with the names of the knights of the Holy Grail, presumably their and perhaps our own tombs. The tabernacle was giant diminishing perfect circles where finally the grail appeared, a revolving faceted extra-terrestrial object that shone with all the cinematic panache of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001.

This inspired minimalism allowed the vivid vocal and musical performances to prevail, and bring us to a state of purification — even Nietzsche found the music of Parsifal to be sublimely beautiful (and maybe finding sublimity is redemption enough these days). Conductor Philippe Auguin paced the prelude very slowly, at first excruciatingly slow, but with time this unworldly pace took us to another realm — rarified teutonic mythology — and it was here that some of Wagner’s greatest music poured forth from the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice for nearly five hours. Perhaps the poetry of Bayreuth was missing (and we did applaud after the first act), but very real Wagnerian musico-sensual pleasures were notably apparent making this Parsifal’s redemption an unforgettable afternoon on the Cote d’Azur.

N.B. All the subordinate roles were taken by quite accomplished, i.e. world class, performers. This Parsifal was an auspicious new beginning for the Opéra de Nice.

Michael Milenski

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):