Parsifal – Mariinsky/Gergiev at Barbican Hall

Parsifal – Bühnenweihfestspiel in three acts to a libretto by the composer [sung in German with English surtitles]

Gurnemanz – Yury Vorobiev
Kundry – Larisa Gogolevskaya
Amfortas – Evgeny Nitikin
Parsifal – Avgust Amonov
Klingsor – Nikolay Putilin
Titurel – Vladimir Felyauer
Two Knights of the Grail – Andrey Ilyushnikov & Eduard Ysanga
Flower maidens – Viktoria Yastrebova, Oksana Shilova, Lyudmila Dudinova, Olga Trifonova, Zhanna Dombrovskaya & Anna Kiknadze

Tiffin Boys’ Choir

Chorus & Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 3 April, 2012
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Valery Gergiev. Photograph: Marco BorggreveMariinsky Theatre Opera and Valery Gergiev gave a concert performance of Parsifal some years ago at the Royal Albert Hall. It did not go down at all well. Then there was the internationally roving, seriously weird ‘Ring’ cycle that landed in Cardiff in 2006 (and reappeared at Covent Garden a couple of years ago), neither of which, to put it mildly, singled out Gergiev as a Wagner conductor to be reckoned with. Well, as has become clear from his recent recording of Parsifal, a lot has happened with Gergiev and Wagner since then, as this marvellous concert performance proved.

The main thing is that the orchestral playing was free of the traditional Russian style of emphasis, with its attention-seeking potential, which gets in the way of Wagner’s flow, and has become impressively malleable and beautifully coloured. The orchestra was by no means huge (founded on just six double basses), but it had enough power for a shattering ‘Transformation Scene’, a memorably mobile introduction to Act Two, and a stupendous climax to Act Three. But even more important were the luminous ‘Prelude to Act One’ and meditative ‘Good Friday Music’ that really did live up to Debussy’s description of Parsifal as “music lit from behind”.

Gergiev’s famously fluttering fingers and extravagantly communicative gestures found full expression in translucent, majestic playing, completely in the spiritual domain of this extraordinary work. Without any production to negotiate, there were very few ensemble problems, and Gergiev’s non-ponderous pace managed to be both light and solemn. He also let the music’s anguish take its inevitable, unmannered course, underpinned by extraordinarily intense singing.

Yury Vorobiev was a very moving Gurnemanz, delivering this taxing role with consistent authority and in complete command of its demanding emotional range. His Act One ‘narration’ was spellbinding, as was its ravishingly well-played accompaniment. Evgeny Nitikin – one of the saving graces of the Mariinsky ‘Ring’ – was a feverishly involving Amfortas, his heroic singing and vestigial attachment to his music-stand enabling a degree of drama that would be the envy of many a staging. Amfortas’s turmoil in Act Three was truly harrowing.

He was easily matched by the incandescent Kundry of Larisa Gogolevskaya – again barely attached to her score and singing with the sort of danger and visceral abandonment that made your hair stand on end. Her voice wasn’t always beautiful, but she embraced Kundry’s complexity with electrifying force, and it didn’t really matter that you could barely distinguish one word of German – and you were reminded, big-time, how powerful women suffer at the hands of weaker men. She and Gergiev were thrilling in the seduction scene, and her “lachte” must still be echoing round the hall. It wasn’t clear if she’d delegated her Act Three groaning and a couple of “dienens” to one of the women in the chorus, but if they were, after that incredible Act Two, who could blame her?

Avgust Amonov’s Parsifal initially wasn’t in the Amfortas/Kundry high-octane league. His rather stiff performing manner didn’t exactly project ‘holy fool’, but his characterisation developed into a psychologically acute battle of wills with Kundry, and he expressed the resolution of Act Three superbly well. Nikolay Putilin’s Klingsor was more in central-casting Russian style, solidly, if rather melodramatically sung. The chorus, again not large, made the big ensembles of Acts One and Three crackle with power, and the Tiffin boys were magical in the conclusion to the opening Act, sang to magical effect at the back of the hall. They weren’t around for the concluding dome semi-chorus.

This was a Parsifal that worked its addictive, elusive spell with, for all the high drama of the singing, penetrating refinement and directness. The spontaneous interaction of the singers had a compelling urgency, and the performance as a whole did full justice to Wagner’s endlessly gripping, ungraspable ‘Sacred Festival Play’.

  • Mariinsky/Gergiev Verdi Requiem – Barbican Hall 4 April 2012 at 7.30 and live on BBC Radio 3
  • Barbican

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