Well, that was rather special. A mostly all star cast with some fabulous work by the locals in the small parts. And star power in the main leads, with all producing amazing results, even if a couple left me wondering if we could not have cast better locally, if the company leadership had bothered. But, company politics aside, this was a truly special night. And, dare I say it, not for the reasons I expected.
First of all, I have to give full credit to the work of Pinchas Steinberg conducting an enlarged chorus and orchestra, all performing better than I have heard before. Yes, partly that is due to them not being in the pit of doom, that sucks the bloom from the strings and makes everything muddy, but, hearing things clearly also meant we could hear them performing amazingly, responsive to Steinberg's every command. And if, watching him, I found his beats confusing at times, there was no mistaking the unity of sound he was getting, or, his ability to shape, colour and guide the orchestra through this complex score, producing sounds from chamber ensembles to the full blast of a full Wagnerian orchestra in full flight. I also have no doubt that the work of Tahu Matheson and Anthony Hunt preparing the chorus and orchestra was thorough, this sort of result does not come quickly. Especially for a company that rarely performs Wagner.
For most of act 1 of course, besides the various esquires and knights (all performed fantastically by local singers) the act really belonged to the orchestra and chorus, and the fantastic Gurnemanz of Kwangchul Youn. I had only heard him live once before in a small role in William Tell, but he has straight away joined the list of basses I would travel to hear. I admit, I was less than enthusiastic about him going in, but thought, I know he knows this role backwards, so.... I now know why he is one of the in demand Wagner basses. Huge voiced, with a warm sound, he had the hall ringing with sound, yet also easily dropped to pianissimo as required by the music. It really was one of those cases where at the end of act 1, you wonder if the Gurnemanz should have had top billing, as he had been worth the price of admission (which, for a concert was outrageous) just for act 1. The fact that he then returned to sing up a storm in act 3, is beside the point.
As Parsifal, Jonas Kaufmann showed why he is currently the most sought after tenor around. If last time I heard him live, I had some concerns about his voice and the longevity of that sound, this time he sounded like the Jonas of a few years ago, when he stunned the opera world with performances of Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera that declared his ownership of the role any time he wanted to take it up again. This was a performance, in concert only, that matched those. Secure from beginning to end, going through the journey of beginning a fool, gaining understanding, and returning to the knights, bringing the longed for healing of them all. This was as much acting, as singing, while in white tie and tails, yet still throwing the sound to the back of the concert hall, with an ease of production that I felt missing last time I heard him live. That he seemed overwhelmed by other performers in the opening act, was entirely appropriate, and felt right, especially when followed by act 2 where he changes from the brave but foolish youth, into one learning compassion and understanding of suffering before our eyes. We could hear it in the words he sang, not just the surtitles behind him, as the change took place.
As Klingsor we had Warwick Fyfe showing just why people raved about him as Alberich in the Melbourne Ring Cycles, which I have sadly missed. This was again, someone in full command of his text and music, spitting out words with venom, while still singing with control and on the breath and basically revelling in the chance to play the bad guy. Perhaps a lighter sounding voice than I am used to in the role, he certainly had the power and the ability to menace all concerned. Someone give him this role staged, soon. He is too good for it not to happen.
As his partner in crime/the woman who causes things to happen our Kundry was something of a mixed bag. Yes, she sang all the notes, yes I never had trouble hearing her, but a lot of her music seemed to sit in places that did not sit well with her voice. There were times when it was magical (mostly higher sections) and a lot when I wished someone else was on stage. Not that she was bad, just she really appeared out of place. At the end, I did wonder what would the original singer cast have made of it? We will most likely never know because I doubt she will ever get the chance to sing it, which is a pity. Instead, we had Michelle De Young, who as I said, sounded like she is not comfortable in the role, which I guess is not surprising. Kundry is not an easy sing, much less an easy role to act convincingly.
We also had Michael Honeyman who was much better than I expected, but still was very much in a role he should not be singing. In the first act, he was the singer the conductor kept making the orchestra quiet for (which they did remarkably well), rather than him singing out over the top of a swelling orchestra, as written. But, he sang all the notes and got through without ending up a train wreck in the final act, even if failed to fully convey the hell his character is living. Why he was given the part when we have other baritones who have the power to sing that, I cannot explain. And that is a common complaint I have about him, I know.
However, the night belonged to the chorus and orchestra, and our three male leads who really took this to a higher level altogether, and our conductor taking us there. It also was a tribute to the range of talent that we have, that the small parts were all well sung, and cast with the sort of luxury casting I would expect at The Met or similar. David Parkin, an effective Titurel, begging for refreshment. The knights of Dean Bassett and Alexander Hargreaves really impressed. And the Flower Maidens of Stacey Alleaume, Jane Ede, Anna Dowsley, Eva Kong, Julie Lea Godwin and Dominica Matthews, all relishing a chance to sing something they would most likely never get a chance to again, all regular much loved soloists here, getting to sing in ensemble that would do any opera house proud.
Truly, this was a night that was one I will remember. And, I will remember for the good reasons, not for two casting choices that were not bad, but just not up to the level of everyone else.
This was Jonas Kaufmann at The Met 2013