Sounds like Sydney, 9 August 2017
Written by Deen Hamaker
Wagner: Parsifal, Sydney, 9. August 2017
Opera In Concert Review: Parsifal/ Opera Australia (Ausschnitt)
Today, Parsifal is less of a rarity but continues to be an extremely difficult opera to stage and perform successfully. It is without question a long opera. Without intervals, Pierre Boulez conducted it in 3hours 40minutes, Arturo Toscanini took 4hours 42mins. Here in Sydney, conductor Pinchas Steinberg kept good pace, though on the slower side, around 4hours 15minutes. He deftly led the Opera Australia Orchestra throughout the epic work, intensely sensitive to the needs of the singers. He ably manoeuvred the orchestra through the gossamer shimmer of the Prelude and Transformation music of Act I and the thundering climax of the end of Act II. The final moments of Act III were beautifully rendered. The Opera Australia Orchestra played magnificently throughout and delivered a beautiful rendition of the score.

The announcement that Jonas Kaufmann was returning to Sydney to sing Parsifal generated considerable excitement. One of the biggest stars in the opera sphere, he certainly did not disappoint. Parsifal is a difficult role and requires the singer to move smoothly from youthful lout to ardent lover and then to holy king. Kaufmann handled these transitions deftly. He portrayed every nuance of the character with his use of the text and by deftly shaping the sound of his voice. His portrayal was elegant and very carefully considered. Blossoming after Kundry’s kiss in Act II, Parsifal’s aria Amfortas, Die Wunde was a sensational display of his bright powerful top which did not let up for the rest of the evening.

Korean bass Kwangchul Youn is the go-to bass for many of the top opera houses around the world and his performance here showed why. As Gurnemanz, the aged grail knight, he was indefatigable through the long monologue sections of Act I and was magisterial in his section of Act III. It was a stunning performance. From his very first note, he had the audience in his thrall. It is one of the most beautiful bass voices I have heard. Warwick Fyfe as the evil sorcerer Klingsor was simply sensational. He thundered the text, expressing the seething rage underlying Klingsor’s malevolence. His articulation of Wagner’s text was exemplary. Having recently excelled as Alberich in Opera Australia’s Ring Cycle, Fyfe has shown himself to be one of the finest Wagnerian singers Australia has produced.

As the wounded king Amfortas, Michael Honeyman was very good. He does not have the lush luxuriant baritone sound usually associated with the role, but he did embody the pain and suffering of the role admirably. Unfortunately, Michelle DeYoung as Kundry was a disappointment. With this most complex of characters, there are so many ways to approach the role – as seductress, fierce woman, lost soul looking for redemption – unfortunately Ms DeYoung did little to embody the complexities below the role’s surface. She had to exert considerable effort to reach the high lying sections of the role and does not have the lush voluptuousness needed to carry the seduction duet with Parsifal at the end of Act II.

In the myriad smaller roles, the cast of Opera Australia principals were uniformly excellent. Special mention goes to the Flower Maidens of Act II, Stacey Alleaume, Anna Dowsley, Jane Ede, Julie Lea Goodwin, Eva Kong and Dominica Matthews. This was the finest Flower Maiden ensemble I have heard. Balanced and beautifully timed, they were intoxicating in their attempted seduction of Parsifal. Anna Dowsley backed up as the Alto Soloist and Second Esquire and was magnificent throughout. Her debut as Lucretia in Britten’s Rape of Lucretia next week for Sydney Chamber Opera is justly one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the Sydney opera calendar. Eva Kong also did double duty as the First Esquire and was wonderful.

The gentlemen were just as terrific. David Parkin as the aged Titurel used his booming ample bass to project over the chorus and orchestra into the hall. He excelled in his portrayal of the once great king. Graeme Macfarlane, Simon Kim as the Esquires and Dean Bassett and Alexander Hargreaves as the Knights were all superb. The Opera Australia Chorus and Children’s Chorus were marvellous. Week in week out during the opera season the chorus perform in numerous performances and are often the unsung heroes of the company. Here given the opportunity to sing Wagner’s extraordinary music, they showed their class and style, clearly projecting the text as both the Knights of the Grail and the Flowers of Klingsor’s magical garden.

There are two more performances of Opera Australia’s concerts of Parsifal on Saturday 12 August at 2pm and Monday 13 August at 6pm. With a largely superb cast, excellent orchestra and outstanding chorus, do not miss your opportunity. There are very few tickets left so get them while you can. Be prepared for the long performance time but know that you will be beguiled and feel transformed by the experience by the end.

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