Parsifal’s long, weary road

How’s this for a schedule:

  • Saturday, 31 March 2012 –  Parsifal (Cardiff);
  • Sunday, 1 April 2012 – Mahler Symphony No 8 (Cardiff);
  • Tuesday 3 April 2012 – Parsifal (London);
  • Wednesday 4 April 2012 – Verdi Requiem (London);
  • Friday 6 April 2012 – Parsifal (Birmingham)?

Despite being used, presumably, to thundering away in the Mariinksy pit night after night, by the end of Parsifal at the Barbican a number of our little group were remarking on how exhausted the orchestra looked.  I was exhausted just watching it, and I’d only had a short day’s work and the Circle line to precede it.  They presumably needed some Good Friday magic for that last performance…

At the Barbican, it was a performance of considerable music intensity. The set-piece transformation passages were despatched with surging, glorious confidence; the dialogues were given space, but maintained their dramatic momentum. Only at the end was there a significant lapse, with the closing chorus, that should ordinarily soar in hushed reverence, instead coming over as indistinct and weak. But it was a minor blip in an evening of such vast musical and dramatic span.

Vocally, things were a bit more mixed, in true Mariinsky style. The Gurnemanz of Yuri Vorobiev was the standout: a fulsome tone (if slightly lighter than might be usual), deployed sensitively and with a refreshing alertness to the fact that, dinner jacket and bow tie notwithstanding, he was here to perform a drama. Similarly, Nikolai Putilin as Klingsor, without score, wrapped the character in his dark solid voice as if second nature. The Amfortas of Yevgeny Nikitin was in danger of confusing loudness with anguish, and it all became a bit shouty at points, but it was nonetheless a clear and vivid portrayal.

I wrestled with Larisa Gogolevskaya’s Kundry (not literally, obviously: I may be mad, but…) Her voice runs a curiously uneven range from a fulsome contralto-like lower register, to some full-on, pin-you-against-your-seat high notes, via a slightly indistinct, breathy middle register with some notable gear-changes. She nonetheless negotiated the endlessly-fascinating character of Kundry with dramatic conviction. Act 2 was a tour-de-force. Her cry of ‘lachte!’ nearly stripped the veneer off the auditorium walls.

Which brings us to the Parsifal of Avgust Amonov.  It may well be that concert performing is not his ‘thing’, but I have to say his dramatic engagement was nearly non-existent.  It doesn’t help when his dinner-jacketed appearance is rather more of a Viennese Professor of Composition than of the foolish youth made wise by pity.  He spun some nice notes, yelped a couple, and seemed to ramble for significant chunks in a sort of anonymous delivery, read entirely from his score and all but failing to engage with other singers.  He raised the temperature a little for his revelation of the effect his leaving had had on his mother, but as he was playing against the overwhelming presence of Gogolevskaya’s Kundry, it still seemed pale.  Parsifal, considering he’s the title role is nevertheless a character that rarely comes to the fore in this drama, but the problem was particularly acute on this occasion.

A rewarding evening, but not one to go down in the annals I fear.  Much like with the Ring they brought to Covent Garden in 2009, there is a sense that packing less in and rehearsing it more might well pay dividends.

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