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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL OPERA REVIEW
New Production in coproduction with Opernhaus Zurich.
Direction: Claus Guth
Sets and costumes: Christian Schmidt
Lighting: Jürgen Hoffmann
Parsifal: Klaus Florian Vogt/Christopher Ventris
Kundry: Anja Kampe/Evelyn Herlitzius
Gurnemanz: Hans-Peter Koenig/Eric Halfvarson
Amfortas: Alan Held/Egils Silins
Klingsor: John Wegner/Boaz Daniel
Titurel: Ante Jerkunica
Anja Kampe (Kundry) and Klaus Florian Vogt (Parsifal)
Production Picture © Antoni Bofill
Richard Wagner’s last opera is closely tied to the history of Barcelona’s Liceu. It was here where Parsifal was performed for the first time outside Bayreuth. Ever since, Barcelona has been faithful to Wagner in general and Parsifal in particular. So much that the performances I attended were number 101 and 102 of this opera in the history of the Liceu. Few theatres—certainly none in southern Europe—can show such a strong run of late Wagner. In the history of the Liceu, there has never been an season without Wagner. Unfortunately, the financial crisis is affecting even this tradition and there won’t be any Wagner next season as the administration needs to tighten the belt and offer more popular (and less expensive) operas instead.
For this Centenary occasion Liceu offers a new, interesting, and very original production by Claus Guth. Like several previous stagings of his, it features a revolving stage on which we see different rooms of a mansion almost in ruins, now a sanatorium for wounded soldiers (we are in the years following World War I). It seems that the Grail Knights have converted Montsalvat into a military hospital where wounded soldiers are cared for by a group of doctors and nurses, using the Grail as part of the treatment. In the second Act we are in the same Castle that now happens to be Klingsor’s, and the flower-girls participants at a 1920s party. The direction is—as per usual with Guth—respectful to the libretto and the music, betraying his deep understanding of the opera which sets him apart from a good number of other colleagues.
The musical direction was entrusted to Michael Boder, whose primary merit is to have worked very hard with his orchestra, since the sound coming from the pit was significantly better than what we have got on several other occasions. But it was also uninspired in a first act short of breath and long on routine. Things did improve in the second act and yet again during the third act all the way to an excellent, touching finale. The second performance I attended was 12 minutes shorter than the first time, most of it shaven off the first act and to good effect. No objections about the wonderful Cor del Liceu.
The protagonist of the first cast was German tenor Klaus Florian Vogt, whose voice is whiter and lighter than what we are used in this character, but he has the merit of never pushing his voice and he has an excellent projection, easily reaching every far corner of the house. He is not a heroic Parsifal, but a young, fresh fool. The result is remarkable. In the second cast we had Christopher Ventris, a true specialist in the character, who was more in line of standard Parsifal-expectations. He was an excellent interpreter, although he struggled with the top notes and didn’t always come out on top.
German soprano Anja Kampe was the first Kundry and I was rather surprised with her presence in the role. This singer is not what we can consider a dramatic soprano, although she has made several incursions into these kind of characters; Isolde, for example. Her repertoire usually covers the more lyrical Wagner characters, including Elizabeth, Senta and Sieglinde. A remarkable artist with problems at the top of the range, perhaps the lower lie of Kundry—somewhere between high mezzo and low soprano—played a part in her decision to take on that role. I am not convinced that this a sound decision. Both middle range and bottom are quite demanding and Mrs. Kampe got clearly tired at the end of the taxing second act. It’s not so much her fine performance I was worried about, but that I fear her future vocal prowess could be jeopardized
It would be difficult, meanwhile, to find a more intense interpretation of Kundry than that of Evelyn Herlitzius who featured in the second cast. She is the kind of singer that must be taken as a whole, which is considerably greater than the sum of her parts might be. It is impossible to resist to such powerful singing and acting.
The best performance of the first evening came from German bass Hans Peter Koenig’s Gurnemanz. Ttogether with Rene Pape and Matti Salminen I find him one of the very best Gurnemanzes around. Eric Halfvarson of the second cast—new to the role—offered quantity of voice, but he was short of nobility and true emotion, although was evidently not the impression the majority of the Liceu audience had, judging by the generous applause.
Among the rest of the cast American Alan Held stood out with a sound-if-less-than-noble Amfortas (I might have liked more as Klingsor) as did Croatian bass Ante Jerkunica for his remarkable, if brief, Titurel.
José Ma. Irurzun