Sunday, August 13, 2017

Parsifal in Sydney

I was reading Wagner's letters to Mathilda Wesendonk (original version, online for free) on the way to Sydney to see Wagner's opera Parsifal and came across a letter (July 1859) telling Mathilda about Wolfram's book Parsifal. 'There are so many gaps in the story,' writes Wagner, 'if you wrote an opera you'd have to explain too much. It won't be me who writes it! Let someone else do it and Liszt can write the music!” 

He also recommends Mathilde read a book on Buddhism that he had recently discovered. At the time Wagner was immersed in Tristan and Isolde, but his letters show the beginnings of Parsifal even at this early stage.
I thought about Wagner's letter as I listened to bass Kwangchul Youn sing the role of Gurnemanz, the character who does most of the 'explaining' in this over five hour opera. Youl sang his very long part part with firmness and vocal ease setting the stage for a wonderful cast of characters of carry on the story. The wonderful reviews this performance is receiving are well deserved (five and a half stars out of five). 

Purple carpet in the Sydney Opera House
Dinner on the purple steps.
Parsifal is seldom performed in Australia so it was no surprise to find that Wagner fans had flown in from all over the country to hear this concert performance. I overheard guests remarking on the large number of people from Melbourne in the audience and I bumped into a friend from New Zealand who booked tickets to two of the three performances. His mate was going to all three. Well, it's Parsifal, so why wouldn't you if you could? Particularly with the singers Opera Australia lined up for the performance which include star German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, American mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung and Australian baritone Warwick Fyfe. Not many singers can sing these demanding roles but this cast was, without exception, excellent, even faced with the very ordinary concert hall acoustics.

The sooner Sydney gets an acoustically wonderful opera house the better but how could an opera house anywhere else compete with these views?
View from the Sydney Opera House

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