Australian Book Review, 11 August 2017
Christopher Menz
Wagner: Parsifal, Sydney, 9. August 2017
Parsifal (Opera Australia)(Ausschnitt)
Parsifal’s journey to Australia has been a slow one. Many may have seen Hans-Jürgen Syderberg’s cult filmed version of 1982. The first and only complete Australian fully staged performance, mounted the State Opera of South Australia in Adelaide in 2001, was memorably conducted by the late Jeffrey Tate (three years after his Ring there), but marred by Elke Neidhardt’s unsympathetic production. As recently as December 2016, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Simone Young, performed extracts from Act II with Michelle DeYoung as Kundry and Stuart Skelton as Parsifal.

Jonas Kaufmann, fresh from his first Otello at the Royal Opera House, made a welcome return to Australia following his triumphant début here for Opera Australia with recitals in Sydney and Melbourne. Kaufmann was joined on the Concert Hall stage by Michelle DeYoung (Kundry), Kwangchul Youn (Gurnemanz), Michael Honeyman (Amfortas), Warwick Fyfe (Klingsor), and David Parkin (Titurel). Kaufmann first sang the title role at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in 2013 to considerable acclaim.

Concert performances of Parsifal enable us to luxuriate in this extraordinary score, to focus on the voices, and to follow the opera without being subjected to voguish directorial excesses. This superb and moving performance of Parsifal should do much to encourage further concert performances of great operas.

All the singers were in fine voice. Gurnemanz, is the central figure who narrates much of the history in Acts I and III, was commandingly sung by Kwangchul Youn. It is Guremanz who meets Parsifal on both occasions and leads him to the Grail ritual. Michael Honeyman gave a thrilling performance as Amfortas in his long, crazed aria on his endless suffering. His final Ermbarmen! (Have mercy!) was heart-wrenching. Warwick Fyfe's Klingsor was a dramatic and powerful interpretation. Michelle DeYoung inhabited the role of Kundry, showing great lyrical beauty as the seductress as well as in the screaming extremes elsewhere in this demanding role. As Parsifal, Jonas Kaufmann was magnificent both vocally and interpretatively, showing the transformation from innocent youth to compassionate saviour. The German tenor maintained beauty of tone and focus throughout, both in the passages of greatest volume and intensity and in those of great delicacy, most effectively the final and tender öffnet den Schrein! (Open the shrine!). The rest of the cast – knights, esquires, flower maidens, Opera Australia chorus, and children’s chorus – was strong and impressive throughout.

The other star role was the Opera Australia Orchestra under the baton of Pinchas Steinberg. The playing was superb, particularly the wind sections, and Steinberg shaped this long opera with an assured hand. The pacing was perfectly measured, with careful attention to performance details of phrasing and dynamics. Rarely has four and a half hours of opera been so engrossing from start to finish.

This is a performance not to be missed.

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