Sweden Wagner Parsifal: Soloists, The Royal Opera Chorus, Children’s Chorus från Adolf Fredrik Music Classes, The Royal Orchestra, Patrik Ringborg (conductor). The Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm 12.10.2013 (GF)
Amfortas – Ola Eliasson
Titurel – Michael Schmidberger
Gurnemanz – Christof Fischesser
Parsifal – Michael Weinius
Klingsor – Martin Winkler
Kundry – Katarina Dalayman
Two Grail Knights – Jonas Degerfeldt, Kristian Flor
Esquires – Magdalena Risberg, Frida Josefin Österberg, Niklas Björling Rygert, Jon Nilsson, Hedda Stiernstedt, Gustav Gälsing, Oscar Rosberg
Flower Maidens – Magdalena Risberg, Roma Loukes, Frida Josefin Österberg, Vivianne Holmberg, Sara Olsson, Johanna Rudström
A voice – Katarina Leoson
Children’s Angels – Kristin Leoson, Alice Boyer
Angels – Anton Noring, Emil Orwar
Christ – Magnus Af Sandberg
Directed by Christof Loy
Sets by Dirk Becker
Costumes and Masks by Barbara Drosihn
Lighting Design by Olaf Winter
Choreography by Thomas Wilhelm
Parsifal was long in the making. Wagner read Wolfram von Eschenbach’s poem Parzival at Marienbad in 1845. Almost a decade later he encountered Schopenhauer’s writings and became interested in Buddhism, which led to his making sketches for an opera based on the life of Buddha. Some of the themes there were later to be developed in Parsifal. He is said to have begun work on Parsifal on Good Friday morning 1857 in the cottage Otto Wesendonck had put at his disposal on his estate in Zurich. Then followed eight years of work on Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, before in August 1865 he resumed work on Parsifal, making a prose draft on the work. But again he had to devote his time to other things, Der Ring des Nibelungen, and not until August 1876, when Der Ring was finally in harbour, he was able to concentrate on Parsifal. But it took another 5½ years before he finished the work on 13 January 1882. On 26 July the same year it was premiered at Bayreuth. For the next twenty years it was performed exclusively at Bayreuth, according to Wagner’s will and, apart from a couple of concert performances, not until 24 December 1903 it was staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. On 1 January 1914 Bayreuth finally lifted its monopoly and during the next seven months more than 50 European opera houses staged the work. The Stockholm Royal Opera was a late starter, though, and it was only on 21 April 1917 that Parsifal finally was seen here. That production survived until April 1960. Then in 1963 a new production was mounted, this time sung in German. It also had a long lifetime, 25 years. In April 1995 came the third production, directed by Götz Friedrich and with Gösta Winbergh in the title role. That production was seen only 16 times until March 2003, so there has been a wake of a decade before Christof Loy was engaged to give his view of this elusive work.
Loy admits that he is no diehard Wagnerian, he is basically a Mozartian and strives to “achieve great music theatre moments with concentrated musical means”. Wagner’s monumentality is far from his personal ideal, but there are aspects in his works that are inspiring, says Loy. Primarily he wants to focus on the psychology and the individual as a human being. Peal off the heroic.
And that is the strength of this production. The characters stand out as individuals. Parsifal is the innocent child of nature, he doesn’t understand much of what he sees but he is likeable. He is no hot-headed hero like the young Siegfried, he is not idealized and noble like his son-to-be Lohengrin, he is no barnstormer like Walther von Stolzing. And who is Kundry? An evil, lusty sorceress or just an unhappy woman who once laughed at Jesus on the cross and has been suffering eternally since then? There is a leaning towards the latter interpretation. And Klingsor? He is a sorcerer, he is evil, but he is also a deeply unhappy character who castrated himself to get entrance to the Brotherhood of the Grail but was denied and still has the lust – and can’t practice it. He is much more human than just a symbol for evil. Christof Loy doesn’t force the answers on the viewer – he may not even have the answers and my reactions to what I saw may be up the creek. This is not important, what is important is that one reacts. Christof Loy made me react. I know the music quite well, but has mostly listened to it without bothering about the message. Christof Loy made me bother.
Those who think Parsifal is long and monotonous are partly right. This production takes 5h20m, including two intervals, tempos are slow, dramatic climaxes are few and far between. But it is also music of immense beauty and, in this production, performed by a team of world class singers. Michael Weinius, whose development from a good baritone to a superb dramatic tenor I have been able to follow during the last decade or so. Having heard so many dry-voiced, strained, wobbly and stentorian tenors of late – mostly on recordings I have to admit – it is marvellous to listen to Weinius’s beautiful, effortless, nuanced and up high glorious singing. The only other of today’s Wagner tenors who can measure up against him is Robert Dean Smith, but he hasn’t quite the attack and the brilliant top. Katarina Dalayman’s Brünnhilde in Stockholm six or seven years ago was sensational and since then she has also been a masterly Elektra. Her Kundry is on that level and it is quite a feat to be on the stage practically the whole last act and only have the words Dienen! Dienen! to sing but still being in focus the whole time. Christof Fischesser is among the best German basses today and his Gurnemanz – must be one of the longest bass roles in the repertoire – was noble, dignified but also strong and condemning. Ola Eliasson’a Amfortas was also admirable and indefatigable and finally Martin Winkler, who was a truly diabolic Klingsor. There were no weaknesses among the minor roles either.
Patrik Ringborg, whose Wagner conducting I praised just a couple of months ago when I reviewed Das Rheingold at Dalhalla, has gone back to the historical sources and adopted more or less the same tempos that Hermann Levi chose at the premiere and the playing of the Royal Orchestra was very convincing. Wagner’s operas have a long tradition in the house at Gustaf Adolf Square.
I missed the premiere a week earlier due to other assignments. This was the third performance and everything seemed settled. This new Parsifal is a success in every respect.