Tuesday 27 August 2013

Royal Albert Hall, sacred place

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.


David said...

That wasn't total admiration by any means, Andrew, though it looks as if I've been softer on John Tom than Mark, and obviously the Amfortas was the wrong voice. I'm no great fan of Elder in Wagner, either, though for the luminosity I could forgive him the lack of drive in the violent passages.

I can't agree with Mark's assessment of Dalayman's Kundry either. Curious to know what you thought of her; you don't say. Otherwise we more or less concur. Wagner is nearly always four-star; always some weakness somewhere. But his interpreters are still functioning at a higher level than most.

Andrew Morris said...

Thank you for commenting, David, and apologies if I’ve over-simplified your position. You did spot my avoidance of verdict on Dalayman’s Kundry – to be honest, this was only my second live Parsifal (2011’s ENO revival was my first) so I’m unsure quite what could be done with the role and wanted rather to comment on the use of the space than on the individual performances. Reflecting on her performance, I thought her power was astonishing, but I didn’t get a particularly multi-dimensional sense of the complexities of the character. I am, however, a relative novice to live Wagner and don’t want to pass judgement for judgement’s sake – I’m happy to leave that to more seasoned Wagnerites, such as yourself! I’m certainly looking forward to comparing this performance to her role in the Met Parsifal, should that appear on DVD any time soon, and I have Kna 51 & 62, Karajan and Boulez sitting here at home, waiting to be explored.

David said...

I shall have to explore ALL available Parsifal recordings before the year is out, though I'm still not sure if I'm allowed to specify why.

I long to see that Met film when it's released on DVD - the production seems to have pleased most.

Andrew Morris said...

Wow - much as I love Parsifal, I can't say I envy you that task.

As for productions, have you seen the Stefan Herheim one from Bayreuth? It was filled last year, I think, and is available on Youtube - there is, I understand, now some doubt as to whether it will ever make it to DVD. Shame, as it has been much lauded.

Doundou Tchil said...

The Met production, which has been broadcast, is nothing special. By US standards it might have seemed radical but it was pretty one dimensional by European standards. What makes it essential for anyone seriously interested in Parsifal, is the singing. I'm in the process of writing about Herheim's Bayreuth Parsifal, and have just written about his Salzburg Meistersinger.

Doundou Tchil said...

Dalayman sings Kundry to Kaufmann's Parsifal at the Met. Singers shouldn't be judged on purely vocal terms, but in relationship to the rest of the cast and to the interpretation of the drama in the specific production. It's essential, I think, to really know an ope4ra "from within" to really guage performance

Mark Valencia said...

Good grief David - ALL the Parsifals lined up in a row, back to back? I doff my cap.

Checking back, the note on Dalayman that I jotted and re-jotted during the RAH Prom was a variation on 'no connection'. It distracted me so much - quite possibly because her technical excellence in other respects was so good.