Saturday, June 4, 2011

5 great opera-concerts at TCE: (2) Parsifal

Parsifal in concert, Théâtre des Champs Elysées,April 14 2011

Michael Volle, Kent Nagano and Kwangchul Youn

Kent Nagano ..... Conductor

Nikolai Schukoff ..... Parsifal
Angela Denoke ..... Kundry
Kwangchul Youn ..... Gurnemanz
John Wegner ..... Klingsor
Michael Volle ..... Amfortas
Steven Humes ..... Titurel

Orchestra and Chorus of the Staatsoper Munich
Tölzer Knabenchor

This was a memorable concert that I didn't expect to happen. I always think of Parsifal as an opera that cannot fully work on you without its scenic part. It is such a fertile ground for intelligent and talented directors to let their ideas and concepts fly and backed with this monumental music it produces its strongest impact on the audience. I still believe that a successful Parsifal in concert can at best be half as good as the full thing, but this concert was so irresistible and I embraced it after the first prelude and loved every single second of it.

A special dimension to this performance was Kent Nagano who --by this superb conducting-- basically made a statement to the Munich authorities who, driven by a strong desire to bring in and promote the conservative Thielemann to the music director position at the Bayerische Staatsoper, only managed to make Nagano resign from that same position. This concert was just a testimony of a perfect chemistry between Kent and his orchestra: after several years of working together, the orchestra now reacts to every tiny gesture he makes and the result is simply divine. Kudos to Maestro Nagano!

No man can sing the role of Gurnemanz as Kwangchul Youn. His voice is strong, firm, plain, beautifully projected... He knows how to subtly turn on the emotional side in Gurnemanz to give this man's authority the depth, brain, that special thing that made so many critics fall in love with his Gurnemanz in Bayreuth, Berlin and elsewhere. Bass-fest continued with Steven Humes who is now the Munich opera regular, the folks there love him and he delivers his best: I don't believe it is a stretch if I say that he is probably the finest American bass right now.  Titurel is not maybe a long role to sing, very dark by definition, so giving it a special flavor is a sign of the greatness of its interpreter. Hopefully we'll soon see Humes in some longer role.

Angela Denoke was stunning once again. She's your best Kabanova in business, the best Salomé... and I did not have doubts she would be great as Kundry - but not that great. She has that intrinsic sense for drama and only looking at her sitting on the stage, watching her face changing while listening to the music gives her role more juice: When it is her turn to sing her part, that looks almost natural thing to do after seeing her so much into it -- following the dramatic flow. She attacks the top notes head on, and than give that beautifully timbred big voice seductive vibrato. The crowd went wild in the end! 

The role of Amfortas went to the always reliable  Michael Volle.  What a great-great singer he is! Nikolai Schukoff's voice sits exactly where needed for a musically well shaped Parsifal. He's usually pushy in the top register. Here he was relaxed, cool singing and fitting wonderfully in the whole event. 

I was also glad for the Parisian crowd to feel some truly good Wagner music in a humanly sized venue.  Although the capacity of Théâtre des Champs Elysées is to host 1926 people, it's like a third (fourth?) of the size of Opéra Bastille, where you usually get to listen to the operas by Wagner in Paris.
Personally, I am amazed that in spite of listening to this opera relatively often in the past several years, I still get to learn, discover, feel... this masterpiece differently.

Apart from several pics, below you can find a recently recorded interpretation of Kundry by Angela Denoke. You can get a taste of the beauty of her voice, but in auditorium the impact she makes on you is very particular. Brava!

Nikola Schukoff and Angela Denoke

Kwangchul Youn

Steven Humes and Angela Denoke

Kenta Nagano


  1. Hi OC:

    Nice summary.

    "and I embraced it after the first prelude and loved every single second of it"

    I am as fanatical a Wagner nut as they come but even I will admit that a concert performance of Parsifal would make me squirm a bit.... It contains some of Wagner's most ravishing music of course but there is no getting around its longueurs.

    The music varies too much in quality I think, as opposed to, say, Das Rheingold which is flawless from beginning to end....(among others)

    The Unrepentant Pelleastrian... (there was a log-in glitch)

  2. Quick addendum:

    And believe me, there is nothing more I'd love to be able to do than proclaim that all 4 hours of Wagner's final masterpiece is riveting in the way that Schoenberg's Moses and Aron (to take one more example) is riveting.

    The Unrepentant Pelleastrian

  3. To Unrepentant Pelleastrian:
    If you've never tried Parsifal in concert form, you might be in for a surprise: it lets you concentrate on the beautiful music and text rather than being distracted by scenery.

    BTW, the cast looks excellent!