The Spectator, 9 March 2013
Michael Tanner
Wagner: Parsifal, Metropolitan Opera, 2 March 2013
Parsifal - Live from the Met
I went to the Met’s relay of Parsifal with very high hopes indeed, which were extensively dashed: though my highest hope, Jonas Kaufmann’s Parsifal, exceeded all my expectations. He gave the most moving, most complete, deeply felt and staggeringly sung account of the role that I have ever seen or heard. The trouble was that his performance was, for the most part, in a context which failed to measure up to it: thus the long scene between Parsifal and Kundry in Act II, in which she tries all conceivable means of seducing him, in one of Wagner’s most psychologically astute and demanding exchanges, was wrecked by the unseductiveness of Katarina Dalayman, unbecomingly dressed and vocally stretched beyond her limits. Their scene followed the least sexy, least sensual Flower Maidens’ episode, not even those shameless key-changes carrying a remote erotic charge.

Depression set in early on, when the curtain rose to show a line of — would you believe it? — men in business suits. They took off their ties and jackets, and remained on the set throughout the whole of Act I, undermining the first stage of Parsifal’s pilgrimage, which involves moving from the lands of the Grail into the temple, where he encounters the knights for the first time. The only hints of Nature in the production are the impressive cloudscape, and some astronomical objects that loom into sight at crucial points. Besides the men in suits, there is a huddle of women on the other side of the stage, hard to guess who or why.

Apart from Kaufmann, the finest singing and acting comes from Peter Mattei as Amfortas, as graphic a portrayal as I’ve seen of his spiritual and physical agony, and sung with wonderfully full tone. That is just what René Pape lacks. His Gurnemanz is, alas, the traditional windy bore, where a succession of great basses has shown us how wonderful a role it can be. Pape seems to consider acting as supererogatory, too. I had hopes of Daniele Gatti’s conducting, but they didn’t survive the Prelude. The orchestral sound was mainly subdued, undetailed, above all lacking the long line.

Despite which: Act III was almost the great experience it should be. Parsifal entered in a state of seemingly terminal collapse, slowly revived thanks to Kundry’s silent ministrations (beautifully acted by Dalayman), and took command with calm and noble dignity when anointed by Gurnemanz. His entry in the final scene was exalted, ecstatic, and finally that exaltation, which should be implicit throughout Parsifal, was conveyed to the audience. Perhaps if the rest of the performance had been on that level it would have been unbearable.

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