Friday, May 27, 2011

The Day after Doomsday

Only friend Sam would think to go to Parsifal the day after "Doomsday" - and review it for us:

22 March 2011

©Frank Heller

Not knowing quite what to do on Doomsday -- May 21st -- I went shopping. For groceries. No earthquake as predicted, of course, but shortly before 6 o’clock, I could feel the floor under the fresh produce section swaying ominously, as two things dawned on me: first, a potentially deadly strain of e-coli found in certain veggies, fruit and meat is spreading across Germany; second, food prices are rising sharply, especially in European Union countries. So is this how the world will end? Certainly not with a bang, nor with a whimper, but through viral afflictions that will starve everybody and by prices of everything reaching heights even financial industry plutocrats can’t afford. Followed, of course, by aftershocks of decimated populations and by deflation so severe that neither industries nor artisans can afford to purvey basic necessities.

As these these cheerful thoughts gave way to a faint feeling of rebirth -- aha, was it Rapture? -- I decided to take in a live concert -- just to experience human beings doing something only humans can do. But too late. All performances of opera, concerts, plays, even pop and rock concerts, evidently having implemented their respective Plan Bs, had already commenced.

So the next day, I was determined to do something -- anything -- that would soothe the existential stress of the previous 48 hours. As if by divine coincidence, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein was presenting its season premiere of Parsifal in Düsseldorf.

I freely admit, that the magnet drawing me to this performance was  Elena Zhidkova  as Kundry, who delivered a show-stealing Brangaene in Cologne two seasons ago. Since then, I’ve found her hard to track down; her engagement listings have been scanty, and I believe her appearance this season in Düsseldorf is a one-off.


Zhidkova is incontestably in possession of an exceptional voice, and I can’t understand why she’s not as well known as her Russian contemporary Anna Nebtrebko. Could be, that she’s not to everyone’s taste, though she’d never score less than runner-up in a modeling contest. She is a dramatic mezzo-soprano with an intense, dark timbre that recalls Arkhipova, Obraztsova and, more recently, Diadkova. While its energetic vibrato occasionally widens under pressure, she is most energizing when Kundry’s music exposes her upper-middle register. And there’s the rub: she seems challenged by those cruelly placed notes above the staff, hitting them accurately, but denying them their full counts. If it is to become truly lethal, her portrayal  needs more vocal unguent.

The surprise of the evening came in the plain-wrapper package of Michael Weinius in the title role. The program notes indicate that the still youthful Swede began his career as a baritone. His Parsifal projects at turns boyish wonder, adolescent confusion, and ultimately, experienced authority. He has that “wounded animal” cry at the top -- tighter on vibe than Vinke, less baritonal than Siukola, brassier than Domingo in his salad days, but as thrilling as any of them any day. A bright, forward thrust in the middle merges seamlessly with a rotund lower register. Rotundity in physical appearance, though, could become a problem for him in our HD age.

The golly-gee novelty of his frequently refulgent vocalism tended to overshadow the significant contributions of other the other principals, namely Ryan McKinny (Amfortas), James Moellenhoff (Gurnemanz), John Wegner (Klingsor) and Sami Luttinen (Titurel).

Axel Kober led a comparatively fast-tempo performance that nonetheless allowed the inner voices of the orchestra their due. For some reason, the orchestra seemed to have a collective lapse of concentration in the third act, producing some cheese-cutting clunkers.

The graceful production by Kurt Horres from 2001 (excepting Andreas Rheinhardt’s Ku Kluxy costumes for the Grail Knights) showed no signs of obsolescence. A sign, maybe, that Armageddon can be weathered. At least until December 2012...

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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