Further Thoughts on the Mariinsky Opera’s Parsifal

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Wagner, Parsifal: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Opera, Ex Cathedra, Valery Gergiev (conductor), Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 6.4.2012. (RJ)

Parsifal- Avgust Amonov
Kundry -Larisa Gogolevskaya
Gurnemanz -Yuri Vorobiev
Amfortas -Yevgeny Nitikin
Klingsor -Nikolay Putilin
Titurel -Vladimir Felyauer

Many years ago when I was living in Austria, a friend drew my attention to a performance of Parsifal taking place at the city’s opera house on Good Friday. He urged me to attend noting that such opportunities come along infrequently, but alas – like the hero of the opera – I foolishly failed to grasp that opportunity and have had to wait until now to rectify that omission – in Birmingham.

Jim Pritchard has already written at length about this magnificent performance, which is the jewel in the crown of the Mariinsky’s whistle-stop tour of the UK conducted by the man who has done so much to introduce Wagner to his fellow Russians. The quality of the orchestral playing under Gergiev’s command was impressive throughout, not least in the early stages of the opera where the music almost induces a hypnotic trance as it draws its audience inwards away from the cares of the outside world in preparation for the events that follow.

For the first hour or so Yury Vorobiev held the fort – an extremely youthful looking Gurnemanz. Yet he more than made up for his lack of years with his rich, mature sounding voice and the intense seriousness and gravitas he brought to the role – apart from when he sends Parsifal packing. His lament in Act Three of how the Kingdom of Montsalvat has fallen on hard times was profoundly moving full of grief that felt entirely genuine.

Avgust Amonov came across as a rather geeky Parsifal with spectacles and tousled hair (quite unlike his photo in the programme) which seems an appropriately a 21st century take on this character. But while Jim was not over-impressed, I felt he came into his own during Act Two when he underwent a convincing transformation from “guileless fool” to mature adult who rejects Kundry’s attempts to ensnare him as he finally becomes aware of the heavy responsibility resting on his shoulders.

Since this was a concert performance both Amonov and Vorobiev stood behind their music stands referring to the score at regular intervals in time-honoured fashion – although Amonov did dart an occasional smile in the direction of the colourfully dressed flower maidens to the rear. Other principals were less inhibited. Nikolay Putilin strode on to the stage without a score – an evil-looking, ruthless Klingsor, his marvellous bass voice sending a chill down every spine. Larisa Gogolevskaya as Kundry (and here I beg to differ from Jim’s opinion) was amazing and provided the dramatic highpoint of the whole opera. As the woman cursed for laughing at Christ as he bore his cross to Calvary and the temptress employed by Klingsor to lure the Grail knights to their doom she is a larger than life character fIull of contradictory emotions – emotions which reach boiling point in her confrontation with Parsifal in Act Two. Indeed, they boiled over in Ms Gogolevskaya’s passionate outburst – a veritable tour de force – which succeeded in arousing contempt for her evil brazenness and pity for her wretched plight all at the same time.

A few concessions were made to the work’s operatic orgins, notably some subtle lighting effects; for instance, when Parsifal shoots the swan the lights came up! And as already mentioned both Putilin and Ms Gogolevskaya acted out their parts engaging more directly with the audience and each other. But that was all. Having seen a concert version of Der Freischütz at the Proms last September where an effort was made to make it more opera-like, I felt similar treatment here could have made this performance more accessible – though perhaps stopping a spear in flight and encasing Parsifal in a suit of black armour would be asking too much.

Yet this is a minor point for this was an overwhelming musical and spiritually uplifting performance. Having finally experienced Wagner’s Parsifal on a Good Friday and performed by Gergiev and the legendary Mariiinsky Opera, I believe I can now go forth to meet my Maker with joy in my heart. But not for a few more years!

Roger Jones