Busy Russian at the helm
Asked whether she preferred drama on radio or television, the lady opted for radio. Why? “Because the scenery is better.” Which has a sort of bearing on the question whether opera is better in the opera house or the concert hall. When you consider the disease that besets the majority of opera productions these days when ‘concept productions’ are so prevalent, and when ignorant and unmusical producers are so keen to put their egotistic stamp on their efforts, we can be thankful for concert performances of opera that allow the listener to hear the music and imagine the action.
Of course, a good production is the better of the two options: one that has respect for the opera, one that shows imagination in tune with the work. These thoughts came to mind attending on March 12 a performance of the third act of Parsifal. The London Symphony Orchestra was directed by that busy Russian, Valery Gergiev, the Dapertutto of the conducting world. He is not renowned for his direction of Wagner but although I have heard more inspiring performances this was a clear one, impassioned and technically secure, the players straining at the leash to give of their best. There was a fine sonority to be heard, the strings giving a luxurious sheen to their sound was they bore down on their G Saite (G strings).
The singing of Amfortas and Gurnemanz could scarcely have been bettered: the Russian baritone Evgeny Nikitin tugged at our heartstrings and the Dutchman Robert Holl was a superb Gurnemanz, sympathetic and with a voice as huge as a battleship. The single line that Wagner allotted to Kundry in this act was sung by a member of the LS Chorus. Chorus excellent.
Curious how Debussy and Nietzsche both doted on Wagner, then reneged and became as anti-Wagner as Stravinsky was all the time.
The Parsifal, Russian Sergey Semishkov lacked a true Heldentenor ring but sang his part intelligently (he looked curiously like photographs of an unsmiling Francis Bacon); figuratively I thought of his entrance, immersed in black armour, complete with vizier – as a sort of holy Ned Kelly. I also remembered Ernest Newman quoting Wagner’s comment on contemporary criticism that the text was blasphemous: “the idea of Christ being a tenor … phew!”