Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

Opera Undone: Tosca and La bohème

If opera can sometimes seem unyieldingly conservative, even reactionary, it made quite the change to spend an evening hearing and seeing something which was so radically done.

A refined Acis and Galatea at Cadogan Hall

The first performance of Handel's two-act Acis and Galatea - variously described as a masque, serenata, pastoral or ‘little opera’ - took place in the summer of 1718 at Cannons, the elegant residence of James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos.

Lise Davidsen: A superlative journey through the art of song

Are critics capable of humility? The answer should always be yes, yet I’m often surprised how rare it seems to be. It took the film critic of The Sunday Times, Dilys Powell, several decades to admit she had been wrong about Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, a film excoriated on its release in 1960. It’s taken me considerably less time - and largely because of this astounding recital - to realise I was very wrong about Lise Davidsen.

Parsifal in Toulouse

Aurélien Bory, director of a small, avant garde theater company in Toulouse, staged a spellbinding Parsifal at the Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse’s famed Orchestre National du Capitole in the pit — FYI the Capitole is Toulouse’s city hall, the opera house is a part of it.

An Evening with Rosina Storchio: Ermonela Jaho at Wigmore Hall

‘The world’s most acclaimed Soprano’: the programme booklet produced for Ermonela Jaho’s Wigmore Hall debut was keen to emphasise the Albanian soprano’s prestigious status, as judged by The Economist, and it was standing-room only at the Hall which was full to capacity with Jaho’s fervent fans and opera-lovers.

Parsifal in Palermo

Richard Wagner chose to finish his Good Friday opera while residing in Sicily’s Palermo, partaking of the natural splendors of its famed verdant basin, the Conca d’Oro, and reveling in the golden light of its surreal Monreale cathedral.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts a magnificent Siegfried

“Siegfried is the Man of the Future, the man we wish, the man we will, but cannot make, and the man who must create himself through our annihilation.” This was Richard Wagner, writing in 1854, his thoughts on Siegfried. The hero of Wagner’s Siegfried, however, has quite some journey to travel before he gets to the vision the composer described in that letter to August Roeckel. Watching Torsten Kerl’s Siegfried in this - largely magnificent - concert performance one really wondered how tortuous a journey this would be.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi in Rome

Shakespearean sentiments may gracefully enrich Gounod’s Romeo et Juliet, but powerful Baroque tensions enthrall us in the bel canto complexities of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Conductor Daniele Gatti’s offered a truly fine bel canto evening at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera introducing a trio of fine young artists.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali makes versatile debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali has been making waves internationally for some time. The chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra is set to take over from Esa-Pekka Salonen as principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in 2021.

Tristan und Isolde in Bologna

East German stage director Ralf Pleger promised us a Tristan unlike anything we had ever seen. It was indeed. And Slovakian conductor Jura Valčuha gave us a Tristan as never before heard. All of this just now in the most Wagnerian of all Italian cities — Bologna!


Seductively morbid – The Fall of the House of Usher in The Hague

What does it feel like to be depressed? “It’s like water seeping into my heart” is how one young sufferer put it.

Daring Pairing Doubles the Fun by Pacific Opera Project

Puccini’s only comedy, the one act Gianni Schicchi is most often programmed with a second short piece of tragic fare, but the adventurous Pacific Opera Project has banked on a fanciful Ravel opus to sustain the mood and send the audience home with tickled ribs and gladdened hearts.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry and Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal [Photo © Matthias Baus]
24 Oct 2012

Parsifal bears its own Cross

Parsifal, with its heavy dose of religiosity and strains of racial supremacy, remains at once the most mystical and historically burdened of Wagner’s operas.

Parsifal bears its own Cross

A review by Rebecca Schmid

Above: Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry and Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal

All photos © Matthias Baus

 

As such, it is no wonder that it has yielded some of Germany’s most seminal and controversial stagings of the past decade. The late Christoph Schlingensief brought giant, rotting bunnies to Bayreuth in 2004, the original stage to which Wagner consecrated the work in 1882—leaving New Yorker critic Alex Ross “ready to hurl,” as he so candidly put it—while Stefan Herheim’s 2008 deconstructionist production for the ‘Green Hill’ becomes an allegory for German history, traveling through the world wars of the twentieth century and into the bureaucratic Federal Republic of Bonn.

Philipp Stötzl, in his new staging for the Deutsche Oper (seen at its premiere on October 21), has opted for a more conventional yet equally radical concept that foregrounds explicitly Christian imagery. The director, who worked in film before making several successful forays into opera, casts the story as a series of tableaux vivants set in a rocky mountainous region that could easily be Nazareth (sets co-designed with Conrad Moritz Reinhardt). The curtains open during the overture to a realist portrait of Jesus on the cross, surrounded by nomads and a Roman soldier. Self-flogging and fake blood abound as the procession continues, with Amfortas carrying his own cross in the final scene.

In a genius stroke that counters the lengthy nature of the opening act, Gurnemanz’s narrations about Amfortas’ seduction by Kundry and the Last Supper are depicted on the rocks in flashbacks. Parsifal, appearing in a modern black suit and tie, descends upon the scene as if walking across a film set, an effect which is accentuated by conspicuous fluorescent lighting on all sides (Ulrich Niepel). Klingsor’s magic garden is fashioned as a Mayan cave of sorts, with Native American-inspired garb for the warlock and semi-nude floral get-ups for the flower maidens (costumes by Kathi Maurer), while the final act returns to a rocky, post-apocalyptic no man’s last featuring modern-day dress and a single streetlamp under which Parsifal is anointed by a blindly fervent crowd.

Parsifal_DO_06.jpgMatti Salminen as Gurnemanz and Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal with chorus

Stötzl’s episodes were for the most part expertly coordinated with the music, such as when Parsifal lunges his spear toward Amfortas’ wound, only to have the ruler grab it in an act of suicide (a gesture borrowed from Schlingensief). The director’s still lives, at their best, served to illustrate Wagner’s proto-cinematic qualities (theories point to the composer’s use of Leitmotifs and underscoring, techniques which were picked up by Hollywood starting in the silent film era, as well as the darkened theatre and continental seating in Bayreuth). The surging Liebesmahl (love feast) motif of the overture against the crucifixion scene captured the essence of Wagner’s spirit, a cry for redemption and a manic belief in the power of art to transform the senses.

Other scenes, such as the slow-moving mass of bodies wielding swords in the orchestral postlude of the final act, were nearly comical in their kitsch factor. The final act proved most perplexing in its chronological jump and aesthetic abstraction, failing to fully explain Parsifal’s anachronistic presence in the rest of the opera. It was also not clear whether the reverential raising of hands toward the grail in the final scene, including the shaking and collapsing of a man in zeal, was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. If Stötzl hoped to include an element of social critique, it was lost in the religious pageant.

Parsifal_DO_03.jpgEvelyn Herlitzius, as Kundry and Thomas Jesatko as Klingsor with dancers

Nonetheless, his characters emerged in immediately human strokes. Klaus Florian Vogt, slowly overtaking Jonas Kaufmann as today’s most coveted Wagnerian tenor, conveyed Parsifal’s selfless naiveté with clarion tones and an unforced thespian presence. Although his high lying timbre may not conform to the vision of many seasoned Wagnerians, his sharp musicianship and natural appeal surely compensate. The baritone Thomas Johannes Mayer gave a wrenching delivery in the role of Amfortas, evoking his existential struggle without chewing the scenery and phrasing with great sensitivity.

The dark voice of veteran bass Matti Saliminen may have developed a slightly gravely quality, but he was unquestionably authoritative as the knight Gurnemanz, winning thunderous applause. Evelyn Herlitzius incarnated the wandering heathen Kundry with seductive tones, grounding large melodic leaps with a burnished low range. She was in particularly fine voice for her narrative to Parsifal, “Ich sah das Kind,” about seeing him as a baby in his mother’s arms. The bass Albert Pesendorfer was rich voiced and commanding as Amfortas’ father Titurel, and Thomas Jesatko a magnetic Klingsor. Comprimario roles were strongly cast, with Burkhard Ulrich and Tobias Kehrer standing out as the First and Second Knights of the Grail. The chorus of the Deutsche Oper brought a characteristic blend of elegant lyricism and homogeneity of tone.

Parsifal_DO_09.jpgThomas J. Mayer as Amfortas and Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry with chorus

Donald Runnicles, now entering his fourth season as music director of the Deutsche Oper, led the orchestra in a smooth, strong-willed reading that did not always brim with tremendous pathos but did full justice to the soaring lines of Wagner’s score. The horns and trumpets were in top form through chromatic motifs, and although the strings’ gleaming tone did not always make its way into the transcendent, there was little doubt of the orchestra’s authentic connection to this tradition. With so many subversive productions circulating as we approach the eve of Wagner’s bicentenary in 2013, perhaps there is no need to fight the inevitable weight of history.

Rebecca Schmid

Click here for cast and production information.

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):