Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A touch of Bayreuth in Paris: Gatti conducts Parsifal

Parsifal (in concert), Théâtre des Champs Élysées in Paris, March 6 2012

Daniele Gatti .....  Conductor
Christopher Ventris ..... Parsifal
Mihoko Fujimura ..... Kundry
Kurt Rydl ..... Gurnemanz
Lucio Gallo ..... Klingsor
Detlef Roth ..... Amfortas
Andreas Hörl ..... Titurel
Michael Laurenz, Robert Jezierski ..... chevaliers
Manuel Günther, Andreas Früch ..... écuyers
Julia Borchert, Katharina Peetz ..... écuyères et filles-fleurs de Klingsor
Martina Rüping, Carola Guber, Christiane Kohl,
Jutta Maria Böhnert ..... filles-fleurs de Klingsor

Orchestre National de France
Chœur de Radio France (Matthias Brauer)
Maîtrise de Radio France (Sofi Janin)

Daniele Gatti kept his promise and brought the team that performed that smashing Parsifal at the Bayreuther Festspiele. The cast has changed since but the memory of the impact the first cast made on the operatic world with a grand production by Stefan Herheim remains very much alive.
For us who experienced Bayreuth with Chris Ventris and Mihoko Fujimura as Parsifal and Kundry, this was a vector to go back to those memorable 6 hours at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth during the first 2-3 years of the Herheim/Gatti's Parsifal.

Several factors played against it. First, the most wonderful Kwangchul Youn dropped out and it was Kurt Rydl who stepped in as Gurnemanz. Kurt is a great singer with a monumental career behind, but his vibrato today stands on the way to a great Gurnemanz. Another thing that is not quite the same --besides the Festspielhaus, obviously-- is that the Orchestre National de France (ONF) in the first act cannot match the level of the Festival Orchestra in Bayreuth. ONF made a huge progress since Gatti became their chief conductor (after the years under Kurt Masur this was a very healthy change!), but they are still not yet there to bring up what Gatti asked them to. For those of you who dis not listen to Gatti's Parsifal, in the first act he makes reference to Toscanini and takes a very slow pace. I actually LOVED that option in Bayreuth because every key became beautifully defined, distinct and clean -- in contrast to many broiler-conductors who prefer to rush through the first act and avoid all the difficult transitions. To make that slow-paced Act-1 fully work you need to be confident about every part of the orchestra. While the strings were excellent and wonderfully responsive to whatever Gatti asked them to do, and winds very good as well, the brass section wasn't following: either too loud, or too fast, or... Things got much better in Act-2 [the pace gets faster] in which the orchestra was wonderful, and it's actually in the third that everything clicked and the music was exceptionally good.

What I love about Gatti and his Parsifal is that he is not seeking to emulate anyone. He studied the score, listened to the great historic performances, and used that as a source of inspiration and make his reading of the score personal. He brings a different depth to this music which explains why this sounds so different (better) in auditorium than on the recordings.

Pic from Bayreuth [Act 3]: Parsifal (Chris Ventris) ends the pains to Amfortas (Detlef Roth) in front of the full Bundestag

As for the singers, the main trio was Chris Ventris, Mihoko Fujimura, and Detlef Roth. Detlef is a good Mozartian baritone who ventured into Wagner and found a way how to absorb the role of Amfortas. He does not have the vocal broadness of Tom Hampson (for example) but his Amfortas grows in a special way: usually both Amfortas' monologues are sung with pathos. Detlef sings his first monologue without to much pain/despair, which only makes his second monologue (in the third act) more heartwrentching as he manages to convey all the pain and infinite despair of his character. 

Mihoko Fujimura has a beautiful vocal medium register which allows her to surf on this perilous role safely and to employ all her experience to deliver a magnificent Kundry. A few top notes in the second act were shortened and "white", but the last part and her huge scream was extraordinary. Here is a singer with a voice that can fill up any big auditorium!

Finale in Bayreuth: the family is finally reunited -- Gurnemanz and Kundry with a kid, which are a dual to Herzeleide, Gamuret and Parsifal, from the beginning of the first act of the Stefan Herheim production

Chris Ventris is maybe tired of too many Parsifals in his life, but to me he still has that impossible balance that is needed in all three appearances of this character. In his scenic appearances he's even better and it's pity he did not continue singing the role in Bayreuth.

Another significant difference wrt Bayreuth is the role of Klingsor. I thought Lucio Gallo was not really a good fit for the role, but in the end he really nailed it with brio. Bravo! 

All the other singers, choruses... were very good too.

A problem with organizing Parsifal on Tuesday night is that it's Tuesday -- working day followed by another working day. The concert started at 6p.m. which required all kinds of time-acrobatics to make it to the TCE at 6. It ends just before midnight and if you work the next day... So the auditorium was not full-full, but I am sure it will be on Friday when the second concert will take place in the same venue. That second concert will be broadcast via Radio France Musique [Friday, March 9 at 6 p.m. (cet)]

A few photos:

Configuration: Orchestra - singers behind - chorus(ses) further behind

Christopher Ventris

Detlef Roth, Kurt Rydl and Chris Ventris (Mihoko Fujimura unfortunately didn't show up in the end)

Daniele Gatti

I obviously don't have any video to propose, but since we are talking about the first three years of the Herheim/Gatti Parsifal in Bayreuth, and if you did not see the documentary ("Making of") filmed during the preparation of this extraordinary production, here are two videos that you might enjoy watching:

EDIT: A short video excerpt from the concert appeared on YT:

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