|Lars Cleveman and John Tomlinson in Wagner's Parsifal (Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou)|
Of all the transformations undergone by the Royal Albert Hall, the problematic home of the BBC Proms, that achieved for Sunday night’s epic performance of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal must rank among the most astounding. The first act of Parsifal – all two hours of it – opens up and up, revealing more and more splendour until the end, when the aged Gurnemanz rebukes the naive Parsifal for failing to understand all that he has seen. A pivotal moment in Act One is the move from the sacred forest of the opera’s opening to the hallowed heights of the castle of Monsalvat, home of the Holy Grail. Gurnemanz sings “here, time becomes space” (a fitting summation of the music’s power – the very first notes of Parsifal set us adrift in time and space by refusing to offer any meter), and Wagner’s “transformation music” describes the ascent to the holy castle and its towering, imposing interior. Once there, two choirs and a brass band, placed far above in the gallery, made for the most stunning rendering of the grail castle imaginable.
Mark Elder’s very slow tempo brought the performance to six hours, but the glowing playing he got from the Hallé as worth the price of admission alone. The long stand (after the Ring, though, it flew by) was rewarded less evenly by the evening’s singing, which ranged from the imposing (John Tomlinson living the role of Gurnemanz) to the anonymous (Lars Cleveman’s unimpressive Parsifal). The remarkable spacial effects will stay with me for a long time, but on balance I’m more in sympathy with Mark Valencia’s qualified praise than David Nice’s total admiration.