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There were two major differences between the performance of March 6th and that of yesterday: First, and most importantly, Daniel Barenboim simply nailed it. And secondly, Plácido Domingo proved that he can sing the part of Parsifal, substituting Fridays lack of preparation with a performance it is hard not to admire.
You simply do not sustain a 40+ year top career gaining you virtually legendary status without putting in a considerable amount of hard work combined with keen self-insight and criticism. Mainly for these reasons I was not surprised that Plácido Domingo had improved vastly from his performance last Friday.
Admittedly, Plácido Domingo doesn´t look and move like (some of) his 30 years younger colleagues, but he still sings better than anyone I have heard live in the part. Vocally he is at least as solid as on the 2005 Thielemann-recording, and while he may still have relied on prompting for parts of Act 2 (audible only twice even from the front row seats, which is quite normal), it didn´t significantly detract from this performance. Even if I still don´t think Parsifal brings out his true dramatic strengths (whether 40 or 70 years old), it was hard not to find his performance impressive. Though I´d expect the Simon Boccanegra he returns to the Berlin State Opera with this upcoming October will show him in an even better light.
How often do you sit in the audience, watch a singer and think: I don´t think this part has ever been better performed in the entire history of the work? It is such with Waltraud Meier´s Kundry, whose charisma and plain ability to project the character is beyond description and kicks any vocal deficiencies into oblivion.
It is also such with René Pape´s Gurnemanz. That is: Had he been there. And it is both unfair and unrealistic to expect that veteran Wagnerian (and previous Bayreuth-Hans Sachs), the not overly charismatic Robert Holl substituting at short notice, should suddenly aspire to perform at that level. His was an honorable and solid, though not overly exciting Gurnemanz.
I wouldn´t be surprised if Christof Fischesser went on to bigger things as he is a plainly superb Klingsor, even more secure at this second performance.
Hanno Müller-Brachmann repeated his beautiful and lyric interpretation of Amfortas from Friday.
Also a well-sung performance from Andreas Bauer as Titurel, coming off to the worst possible start as the curtain went up about 2 minutes too early during the Act 1 transformation music exposing him drinking from a waterbottle under the changing sets.
And a minor quibble on a related note: I would rather have the spear not changing hands from Klingsor to Parsifal at all, than to see all sorts of non-convincing spear appearances, especially when, as yesterday, the spear appeared from a hole in the floor next to Domingo, before Klingsor had even thrown it. Bernd Eichinger is obviously no opera director. But he is a film director. Could he not have made that exchange (even when it works) look more convincing?
Now to the real star of the evening:
While I admit to having been seduced by Christian Thielemann´s glitteringly, beautiful Parsifal, compared to Daniel Barenboim´s quite obvious understanding of the deeper structures of the work, Thielemann now seems superficial. Key elements in Barenboim´s reading being string rubato and accentuation as well as emphasis on the contrapunctual elements, of which, it turns out, there are quite a few. The disturbing, underlying elements of the work are exposed far below the glittery beauty in performance, with echoes lingering on for days.
Daniel Barenboim is slow, though for most parts it is a relative slowness as his Act 1 clocks in at 1:50 – exactly as Thielemann´s in Vienna last year. And curiously he even paced both sets of Transformation music considerably faster than usual.
Basically I would just like to know how he does it. How does he see those connections within the music that apparently no-one else sees? How does he approaches the score? I may just have to become a music journalist and interview him to get the answers..To summarize, I have never heard a better conducted Parsifal.
Massive applause to everyone from an unusually mixed audience, including a large fraction of Spanish-speaking visitors as well as the usual loud misunderstood hissings from semi-studied self-proclaimed expert Wagnerians at those (me included) applauding after Act 1 (which is perfectly acceptable, but requires an entire post to explain).
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Plácido Domingo: 4-5
Waltraud Meier: 6
Robert Holl: 4
Christof Fischesser: 5
Hanno Müller-Brachmann: 5
Daniel Barenboim: 6
Overall impression: 4-5