Sunday 6 May 2007

The Konwitschny Parsifal in Munich

Parsifal. Bavarian State Opera, April 2007. Production: Peter Konwitschny. Cast: Nikolai Schukoff (Parsifal), John Tomlinson (Gurnemanz), Luana DeVol (Kundry). Conductor: Kent Nagano.

I suspect I may not be the only one not always capturing the intentions of German Regietheater exponent Peter Konwitschny. While I found his Don Carlos, Elektra, Flying Dutchman and Tristan all to be rather brilliant, I didn´t appreciate his classroom Lohengrin, though I did understand it. With his Parsifal I neither appreciate nor understand it....

A monolithic tree dominates this post-nuclear production, which emphasizes the duality of the work (I think): Amfortas appears as a reflection of Klingsor, and Parsifal (entering like Tarzan on a grapevine) is attracted to Kundry from the beginning. Peter Konwitschny has many ideas, and I do not question their relevance for the work as such, I just don´t understand them.

Curiously, this is the first Parsifal I have seen where Kundry actually dies, crushed by the grail knights. Konwitschny´s explanation : Even though Wagner does not state so directly in the text, the music clearly indicates her to die. An excellent argument as such, thus a bit surprising to hear from Konwitschny, director of Lohengrin, the class-room drama.

Musically the evening was rather strange: Being music director Kent Nagano´s Wagner debut at the Bavarian State Opera, expectations ran high in the packed auditorium. It did not start well though, with a first act plainly below description. The brass lacked precision, tempi were unpredictable and generally much too fast and coordination between stage and pit seemed non-existent. If I hadn´t been familiar with Nagano´s Baden-Baden Parsifal, I would simply have thought him unfamiliar with the work. Things improved vastly in the last two acts, though I found Nagano´s reading bordering on the (too) passive.

The singers were unfortunately not in top form either: Sir John Tomlinson is a great presence on stage, but he is wobbling intolerably almost all the way through Gurnemanz. The same, in short applies to Luana DeVol´s Kundry. On the contrary Nikolai Shukoff seemed rather light-weight as Parsifal, physically as well as vocally, though he did look the part.

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