Marc Albrecht
Koor van De Nederlandse Opera
Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest
16 December 2016
Het Muziektheater Amsterdam
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasRyan McKinny
TiturelBjarni Thor Kristinsson
GurnemanzGünther Groissböck
ParsifalChristopher Ventris
KlingsorBastiaan Everink
KundryPetra Lang
GralsritterMarcel Reijans
Roger Smeets

Audi’s spectacular Parsifal at Dutch National Opera

Pierre Audi’s time as artistic director of Dutch National Opera is approaching its end – he will leave this position for that of director of the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2018 – and the revival of his Parsifal from 2012 already feels a bit like a tribute to his work in the Dutch capital. His staging of Wagner’s last masterpiece is undoubtedly one of his most memorable productions, both visually and dramatically.

As often with Audi, this is an abstract staging that leaves a lot of space for the spectator’s own interpretation. It offers a particularly dark vision of the tale: at the end of the piece, not only Kundry but everyone else collapses, while Parsifal leaves to pursue his quest. Ultimately, Amfortas and his knights of the Grail only find their salvation through death.

Visually, this Parsifal is spectacular. Magnified by the lighting by Jean Kalman, the monumental sets designed by Anish Kapoor are breathtaking. They have a recognisable Kapoorian flavour. There is the use of bold matte colours, especially a deep red pigment, a few shades darker than vermilion, which is reminiscent of some installations by the Mumbai-born artist, like My Red Homeland from 2003. This same red pigment outlines the ridge of the giant rocks that loom over the knights’ refuge of Monsalvat, and echoes the ever-opening wound in Amfortas’ flesh. There is, most memorably, the gigantic mirror that is tilted from the ceiling in Act 2 – think of Sky Mirror at Nottingham Playhouse, another of Mr. Kapoor’s signature works. This giant disk of polished metal creates a stunning effect as it reflects and distorts light and images on the stage. Inadvertently perhaps, it also at times distorts and amplifies the voices of the choir of Flower Maidens as they try to seduce Parsifal. This eerie side-effect only adds to the other-worldly atmosphere of Klingsor’s magic castle.

Another striking tableau is Act 1’s unveiling of the Grail, when the athletic Christ-like figure of Amfortas unfolds what appears to be a holy shroud stained with crimson blood in front of the crowd of knights gathered around staggering wooden scaffolding. The choir of Dutch National Opera certainly gained Wagnerian credentials in this ensemble and my only reservation would be for the Amfortas of Ryan McKinny, whose skilled acting couldn’t compensate for a cavernous but monocoloured baritone.

The rest of the cast was excellent. Bastiaan Everink managed to let the vulnerability of the fallen character transcend the menacing posture of the magician Klingsor. Petra Lang gave a complex and intense portrayal of Kundry, riveting and dangerous in her seduction scene. It is easy to understand why Christopher Ventris has become a much sought-after Parsifal: his handsome timbre is both youthful and heroic, and the ease with which he appears to project his voice is admirable. Günther Groissböck’s role debut as Gurnemanz was nothing short of a triumph and won him the loudest cheers from the audience on the first night. His noble sound fits Gurnemanz as a glove and, with his impeccable diction and handsome oaky timbre, he was thrilling in his declamatory singing.

In the pit, conductor Marc Albrecht led the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra in a splendid performance, often choosing colour over transparency, as if to echo the visuals on stage. Tempi were assertive, sustaining the tension admirably throughout the five hours

Nicolas Nguyen | 09 Dezember 2016

Four years after Pierre Audi’s staging of Wagner’s enigmatic, final opera was first seen at the Dutch National Opera, it returned this week to an ecstatic reception which, a few minor quibbles aside, was wholly justified.

Given the quasi-religious nature of the work, in tandem with its themes of temptation, sacrifice and redemption, the interpretative possibilities are endless. Audi poses more questions than he answers, and choses a cool aesthetic for all three acts, aided and abetted by Anish Kapoor’s abstract designs. Thankfully, given the disastrous Tristan and Isolde at ENO earlier this year, here his designs manage to capture the essence of the work far more effectively.

Monolithic rocks fill the stage in the first act, which make way for a predominantly bare stage in the following two acts. A giant mirror is suspended from the flies to signify Klingsor’s domain, whilst a wall with a giant circle cut into it fills the stage for the third. It all sounds simple enough, but there were disadvantages to each. Jean Kalman’s lighting bathed Act I in red light, which at times made it difficult to see the singers’ faces, whilst the giant mirror sporadically played havoc with the voices as every time Petra Lang (Kundry) or Christopher Ventris (Parsifal) passed in front of it, their voices were amplified to disconcerting effect. Act III fared better, but anyone hoping for a visual realisation of Wagner’s Good Friday Music would have felt short-changed, as the stage, bathed in blue, resolutely failed to mirror the glorious sounds emanating from the pit.

Maybe the staging’s shortcomings would have mattered more if the performance hadn’t delivered on such an exalted musical level, but this was a Parsifal for the ages; gloriously sung, played and conducted. Given the vocal demands that Wagner makes of his singers, it’s rare to encounter a cast without a single weak link, so kudos to the DNO for assembling one that gave unalloyed pleasure in every role. Lang and Ventris are seasoned pros as Kundry and Parsifal, and returned to reprise their roles from the original performances in 2012. Indeed, they appeared together at The Royal Opera in 2007, and any worries that the intervening years would have taken their toll on their voices were unfounded.

Lang has added the dramatic soprano roles of Brunnhilde and Isolde to her repertoire, and rather than causing wear and tear to the voice, her top is now more thrilling and openly-voiced than before. She is a natural stage creature, and was as compelling in her silence in the last act as she was in the second where she unleashed torrents of thrilling vocal power.

Ventris has sung the title role all over the world, and remains one its finest exponents. Never one to shout or bark, he phrases intelligently and still packs a mighty punch vocally, and matched Lang in their second act confrontation splendidly. His redemption of Amfortas brought a lump to the throat. As the long-suffering Grail knight Ryan McKinny used his firm, resplendent voice to telling effect. His anguish, pain and suffering were almost unbearable to watch, and he rose to magnificent heights in Act III. Bastiaan Everink was a vivid Klingsor, sung with bite and malevolence without ever resorting to barking whilst Bjarni Thor Kristinsson was a properly sepulchral Titurel.

Given the all-round excellence of the cast it seems invidious to elevate one singer above the others, but Gunther Groissbock was nothing short of a revelation as Gurnemanz. Young, handsome, and vocally at the peak of his powers he was cast against type, but having someone in their vocal prime rather than ‘past it’ in this role paid enormous dividends. Gripping in his long first act narration, and glorious in his anointing of Parsifal in the final act, it was impossible to believe that this was his role debut given his performance was so vocally assured and resplendent.

Music Director Marc Albrecht conducted a propulsive and perfectly-judged account of the work, aided and abetted by faultless playing by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. Act III attained musical nirvana, taking us to another plain that felt unworldly due to its transcendental beauty, whilst the choral singing was superb. Magnificent, sublime and extremely moving, this is a Parsifal that demands to be heard and seen.

Keith McDonnell | 10 Dec 2016

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 547 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (NPO 4)
A production by Pierre Audi (2012)