Parsifal. Berlin State Opera. March 6th 2009. Cast: Plácido Domingo (Parsifal), Waltraud Meier (Kundry), Matti Salminen (Gurnemanz), Christof Fischesser (Klingsor), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Amfortas). Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Further information here.
The Parsifal production of the Berlin State Opera is by film-maker Bernd Eichinger from 2005 and described in detail at my last visit two years ago. In brief, Eichinger sees Parsifal as a journey in time. Furthermore, he doesn´t really seem to know anything about directing opera, making Parsifal a display of filmic sets, leaving the singers free to create the characters. Which is why the appearance yesterday of three leads, all new to the production, didn´t really make any difference, despite a minimal rehearsing time.
As Parsifal, Plácido Domingo was notoriously underprepared, relying heavily on audible prompting, especially in the second act. Famous for his acting skills, he had no connection with the character at all, seemingly stretching himself to the maximum to get through it alive and pronounce the words at least partially correct. Has he ever been dramatically convincing as the innocent fool? I suspect not. But yesterday he was painfully unconvincing, almost downright terrible, I (as a staunch Domingo-Wagner fan) am very sorry to say. The tones, however, were beautiful and probably not to be heard better by anyone today in this part. In a concert performance he would have been stunning. However, is it really possible to watch a performance with no chemistry between Plácido Domingo and Waltraud Meier? I wouldn´t have thought so, but apparently it is.
Plácido Domingo has chosen to sing this role again in public. And hats off to him for not cancelling the performance in front of a sold-out house. But he should have been better prepared as this was far below his own standards.
Waltraud Meier was simply stunning as Kundry. Her magnetic stage presence and dramatic projections make me hope she can continue at least 1o years more with this part. That she may have choked on a couple of high notes I find entirely unimportant in the bigger picture, and furthermore the entire middle-lower register, occupying the majority of the part was as beautiful as ever.
The major draw-back to this evening, of course was René Pape´s cancellation and in my book I suspect these performances will go down as "the Berlin Parsifals René Pape didn´t sing". I would be lying if I said he wasn´t heavily missed.
That said, Matti Salminen was a rather smashing substitute. Salminen´s voice ages well and remains firm, entirely avoiding the vibrato marring the singing of colleagues such as John Tomlinson, Kurt Rydl and Samuel Ramey. Furthermore, he was in fine vocal shape and he is an intellingent singer, fully knowing that extended legato-lines and ringing top-notes (René Pape´s major strong points) are not his aces, converting some of these to sprech-gesang or cunning pianissimi letting Barenboim´s orchestra overshadow him (best example in the Gesegnet sei section, at which point I suspect he was down-right exhausted as well). Not unimportantly, Matti Salminen has the required stage authority and apart from he-who-was-not-here I don´t think a better Gurnemanz is around.
Hanno Müller-Brachmann is an Amfortas way above average with a warm, rounded, slightly lyrical approach. Also quite superb Christof Fischesser as Klingsor, though he was occasionally thrown off guard by Barenboim´s rugged tempi. Both on the highest international level.
Daniel Barenboim doesn´t really make things easy either. The orchestra hasn´t played Parsifal in two years and I strongly suspect he didn´t waste too much time rehearsing it either. On top, he applied some peculiar accentuations and rather rugged shift of tempi, not fully incorporated within all sections of the orchestra and which threw the singers off guard, contributing to the sense of unease prevailing in this performance. But he does get beneath the glittering beauty of a Thielemann Parsifal to the closest I can imagine to the core of the work.
However, the evening as a whole didn´t really take off. Still, a Parsifal vastly superior to the one in Bayreuth, but inferior to previous performances of the same production at this house.
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 4=average):
Plácido Domingo: 3
Waltraud Meier: 5
Matti Salminen: 5
Hanno Müller-Brachmann: 5
Christof Fischesser: 5
Daniel Barenboim: 5
Overall impression: 4