Wednesday 11 March 2009

Berlin Parsifal: Domingo redeems himself in knock-out performance from Barenboim and Waltraud Meier

Parsifal. Berlin State Opera, March 9th. Director: Eichinger. Cast: Plácido Domingo (Parsifal), Waltraud Meier (Kundry), Robert Holl (Gurnemanz), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Amfortas), Christof Fischesser (Klingsor). Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Further information here.

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


Anonymous said...

I'm glad to read that Plácido Domingo proved my foresay of still being able to sing Parsifal! The critics of the first performance seemed a little unfair and superficious! He's still the best around and an artist of endless qualities who deserves our respect and love.

Anonymous said...

Please mostly, explain everything about applauding after the end of act I in Parsifal. I thought the silence was a tradition in several theatres like Bayreuth, Vienna and may be Munich. I went once to a Parsifal performance in Vienna, some three years ago, the silence was observed, and it was quite impressive.

Anonymous said...

"To summarize, I have never heard a better conducted Parsifal"
I'm agree, Mostly.
This guy is genius.

mostly opera... said...

The discussion and origins of the non-applause after Parsifal Act 1 is quite well summarized here, in a post on the Wagner discussion forum:

mostly opera... said...

On a related note, I have only once (in many Parsifal performances) observes complete, 100% silence after Act and that was in Munich 2 years ago. In Bayreuth everyone applauded, both times I was there. In Vienna the locals hushed the tourist, though, when they started to applaud.

marcillac said...

Not surprised about Domingo. As I commented on your previous Parsifal post it is impressive how consistently he performs in light of his heavy schedule but one would think he could avoid ever having to put himself in these situations.

Vienna Parsifal: My experience exactly Mostly. My first Parsifal (first Wagner) was in Vienna, in standing room and we had not idea that the Act 1 would be so long. We (and a bunch of other people) errupted in applause of relief more than anything elese but were sushed by the domestic audience.

Anonymous said...

Glad I was there for the wonderful Monday performance and not the embarrassing-sounding Friday! Did you get any curtain call photos on the Monday? Any chance you could put them up if you did? I know they will look exactly the same as Friday's (Domingo might be looking less sheepish) but I'd appreciate having some shots as a souvenir of a great evening.

mostly opera... said...

I didn´t take any photos, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Here are the curtain call pictures taken at the 9th of March:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that. There's also a large gallery of the photos at:

nmharleyrider said...

I wonder if the reviewer meant by Placido being unprepared since he's been singing the role since 1991. Surely the reviewer did not mean that Placido did not know every note of the opera which I'm sure he did from his first appearance in this production.

nmharleyrider said...

I'm wondering why the reviewer thought Placido was unprepared. Unprepared in what way. He's been singing the role since 1991 so I'm sure he knows every note backwards and forward.

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