Leipzig Parsifal Offers Space for Reflection

GermanyGermany Wagner, Parsifal: Soloists, Children’s Choir, Women of the Youth Choir, Chorus, and Additional Chorus of the Leipzig Opera, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Ulf Schirmer (conductor). Leipzig Opera House, 18.4.2014 (MB)

Parsifal – Daniel Kirch
Gurnemanz – Jan Hendrik Rootering
Klingsor – Jürgen Kurth
Kundry – Kathrin Göring
Amfortas – Mathias Hausmann
Titurel – Mitcho Borovinov
Knights of the Graail – Keith Boldt, Mitcho Borovinov
Esqures – Viktorija Kaminskaite, Jean Broekhuizen, Sebastian Fuchsberger, Tommaso Randazzo
Flowermaidens – Menna Davies, Paula Rummel, Jean Broekhuizen, Viktorija Kaminskaite, Eva Schuster, Sandra Janke
Voice from Above – Sandra Janke
Roland Aeschlimann (director, designs)
Susanne Raschig (costumes)
Lucinda Childs (movement)
Lukas Kaltenbäck (lighting)
I have praised Roland Aeschlimann’s Leipzig (and Geneva) staging of Parsifal before. Its relative abstraction allows space for the audience to think, without tending towards the vacuous. It also proves durable, a significant virtue in what is a repertory piece for Oper Leipzig; this is now the third time I have seen it, and whilst there may by now be some of the attendant disadvantages of repertory staging, it continues to do its job very well. Since I have written on the production twice already (in 2009 and 2011), I shall not do so at length this time; there are no significant changes, and the interested reader may follow the links provided, which also have images from the staging. Lukas Kaltenbäck’s lighting continues both to prove atmospheric in itself and to enable the crucial demaracting role of colour in terms both of location and dramatic transformation. (For more on that, see the 2011 review.)
Last time around, I wrote that I remained ‘intrigued and equally uncertain about Aeschlimann’s Grail. Amfortas uncovers something mysterious – no problem there – and holds up a sheet which, by a trick of lighting presents what continues to remind me of a Turin Shroud-vision of Christ. I still wonder whether, even at this stage, we need something a little more substantial – in more than one sense – to offer sustenance for Monsalvat’s community.’ This time, I had fewer qualms, if any, concerning an alleged need for something ‘more substantial’. For, not only, as I wrote before, is there ‘something else, again mysterious, … revealed, which clearly replenishes the community,’ its abstraction and open-endedness enabling for the audience; there is actually – or at least there was on this occasion – something a little troubling, rather than empty, about whatever it is that is going on, without that degenerating into the all-too-easy charge that Monsalvat is … (fill in the gap for your favourite outlandish anti-Wagner accusation). It is quite right, as it were, that all is not right; this is a community in need of ‘redemption’. But nor do we have absurd anti-Wagnerian fantasies foisted upon us. Many of those inclined that way will doubtless take the opportunity to confirm themselves in their hostility, but the space permitted by the production may give some at least a pause for thought.
Ulf Schirmer led a decent performance, without raising the roof; the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra was itself on predictably fine form. Schirmer’s conducting sometimes towards the sectional, Wagner’s ‘most subtle art’ of transition not faring so well – or rather, faring better on stage. By the same token, however, there were no particular problems; and again, the performance offered space for reflection. Choral singing was generally excellent, though there were a few moments of disconnection with the pit. A good cast had only one disappointment. Normally, Gurnemanz is the most reliable of beasts; here, Jan Hendrik Rootering was often highly uncertain of pitch in the first act, though better in the third, and dry of tone rather than moving in his narrations. Daniel Kirch impressed as Parsifal; just because there are still more difficult Wagner roles, we should not be lulled into taking a good performance of Parsifal for granted. Kirch marshalled his resources well, lasted the course, and communicated the text – by which, I mean words and music – with intelligence. Much the same could be said of Kathrin Göring’s Kundry. Göring sounded as if she was more of a lyric soprano, but that did not preclude drama, especially in the second act. Jürgen Kurth, whom I have heard before here as Klingsor, continued to do good work, and the smaller roles were taken well too.
For a Parsifal on Good Friday, then, this offered much on which to reflect, not least having heard the St Matthew Passion at the Thomaskirche the night before. There is nothing wrong with annual rituals such as these and much right with them; indeed, the Christian calendar remains very much part of who we are. Parsifal’s warning against ritualism endured, however – not the least achievement of this production.
Mark Berry

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