Thursday, February 08, 2007
Parsifal at the Staatsoper unter den Linden
Everyone seems to be in Berlin at the moment. I didn't learn of the Berlinale until a few days ago when I tried booking a hotel room. (Apparently, festival's opening night is the busiest night of the year for Berlin hotels.) I almost canceled this trip, but I didn't want to pass up the chance to hear Parsifal with Rene Pape under Daniel Barenboim. When I bought the ticket a few months ago, Waltraud Meier was scheduled to sing Kundry. I heard both Pape and Meier in this opera at the Met last May, with Ben Heppner and Thomas Hampson, who were making role debuts. Despite such stellar casting, excellent playing from the orchestra, and a beautiful production, the opera failed to move me. I even fell asleep during Act II (one of Meier's top notes awoke me, and I was rather embarrassed to discover that I had nodded off). But I had loved every Wagner opera I'd heard, and I knew I had to give this, considered the ne plus ultra of Wagner's art, another chance. I mean, I started Wagner with nothing less than the full Ring at the Met during a week in New York in the spring of '04. And it's hard to top the Met's Lohengrin last season. (I remember Renee Fleming mentioned she saw it and it made her "a convert!")
While reading the libretto this afternoon at a restaurant just down the street from the Staatsoper, I found myself profoundly moved, and I knew things would be different this time around. Sitting in the house (a beautiful one it is), it took only the opening chords of the prelude to move me to tears. Weird, huh? For the next few hours, nothing came close to the purity and promise of that moment, but that's not the point. Moments like that don't happen at every performance.
Rene Pape. First, that gorgeous voice thrills you with its size, tone and sheer power. It's a beautiful, resonant sound. And it emerges from a physique that's no less commanding. Pape makes every word, note and gesture count, bathing every moment with subtely.
Michelle DeYoung wasn't in top form vocally, but she sounded splendid nonetheless. Few artists I have seen can command a stage like Waltraud Meier, whose Kundry was so compelling that she owned my gaze whenever on stage, even all of Act III. But DeYoung has a lot to offer in this part. I'd like to see her in a less irritating production.
What's so moving about Parsifal? In a word, for me it's the longing for peace. Healing. Wounds, sins, whatever. And when it happens, well, that's just magic.