Andrew Davis Leads Compelling Parsifal

United StatesUnited States Wagner, Parsifal: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sir Andrew Davis, (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 21.11.2013 (JLZ)

Gurnemanz: Kwangchul Youn
First Knight: John Irvin
Second Knight: Richard Ollarsaba
First Esquire: Angela Mannino
Second Esquire: J’nai Bridges
Tird Esquire: Matthew DiBattista
Fourth Esquire: Adam Bonanni
Kundry: Daveda Karanas
Amfortas: Thomas Hampson
Parsifal: Paul Groves
Titurel: Rúni Brattaberg
A Voice: Yvette Smith
Klingsor: Tomas Tomasson

Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Director: John Caird
Set and Costume Designer: Johan Engels
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Chorus Master; Michael Black
Choreographer: Tim Claydon

In Lyric Opera of Chicago’s exciting new production of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal—designed by Johan Engels and directed by John Caird—Engels fuses traditional elements of the medieval Grail legend with modern, representational concepts that suggest postmodern ideas. Rudimentary, abstract shapes represent trees and other set pieces. As a result the entire effort offers a convincing setting that accentuates the universal myths of redemption within a visually appealing space. Engels’ production looks handsome on the stage of the Civic Opera House; the larger scenes of the first and third acts fill up the stage, while some of the more intimate ensembles, particularly the duet between Parsifal and Kundry in the second one, are equally effective. The accoutrements of knighthood—that is, representational armor and weapons—are part of the staging, and help to mitigate the matter of gender for the roles which Wagner assigned male and female singers. Yet some anachronisms occur, as with the modern coat that Parsifal wears in contrast to the period-style tunics and chain mail for other knights. This sets him apart from the other characters and also accentuates the idea of Parsifal as a modern individual, supporting the mythic elements of Wagner’s drama.

At the core of the work is the music, convincingly conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. Faithful to Wagner’s score, his interpretation supported the voices and in those telling instrumental passages, gave shape to Wagner’s scenic transitions. Rich, full strings blended nicely with burnished brass, and yet the woodwinds stood out for their varied sonorities.

As Parsifal, Paul Groves was convincing vocally and dramatically, with a vocal timbre appropriate for the character, and a fine sense of line. The Greek-American soprano Daveda Karanas gave an equally strong interpretation of Kundry, with a resilient, aurally compelling voice. Yet she also shaped the character dramatically, making it believable, despite the amalgam of personas Wagner packed into the role. In the second act, her performance was exceptional in its depiction of sometimes conflicted emotions, giving a sense of being a pawn of Klingsor, rather than a slave or thrall.

As Klingsor, Tomas Tomasson gave a riveting performance, giving the character dimensions that other singers fail to convey, with a rich, focused sound and thoughtful phrasing. It would have been good to hear more of him; when a performance is this strong, it feels unfortunate that the role is limited to the second act.

As to the other roles, Kwangchul Youn was note-perfect as Gurnemanz, with impressive diction and ringing tone. As Amfortas Thomas Hampson’s characterization seemed out of place within this production, and this particular performance was marred with some pitch problems. The chorus was well-rehearsed and attested to Michael Black’s efforts as chorus master. Overall, the result was a memorable Parsifal that added to the fine productions Lyric has already offered this season.

James L. Zychowicz

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