Parsifal, Chicago

At the same time a group of youths is awakened and
encouraged by Gurnemanz in their prayers of devotion. This daily routine of the
Grail community is staged with somber dignity before the King Amfortas is
carried onstage in the midst of renewed and heightened suffering. The sudden
arrival of Kundry, credited with access to magical powers, gives temporary hope
as she beings a balsam with the potential of healing. When the King is brought
to his bath Gurnemanz narrates the background of all that has transpired in
this community of religious and worldly aspirations. Before the title character
makes his first appearance the figures and events listed have created an
atmosphere at once stagnant and yet somehow prepared for resolution. In the
role of Gurnemanz Kwangchul Youn makes his Chicago Lyric debut. Kundry is also
a house debut role for Daveda Karanas. Amfortas is sung by Thomas Hampson.
Knights and esquires of the Grail are portrayed by John Irvin, Richard
Ollarsaba, Angela Mannino, J’nai Bridges, Matthew DiBattista, and Adam
Bonanni. Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

The intrusion of Parsifal, sung by Paul Groves in his role debut, was staged
with appropriate surprise and confusion generated among members of the Grail
community and by the title character himself. Just as the isolated Grail
inhabitants recognize Parsifal’s violent deed in killing a wild swan, the
protagonist understands his own actions as a natural response to his
surroundings (“Gewifl! Im Fluge treffe ich, was fliegt!” [“Of course! I
shoot down in flight whatever has wings!”]). The musical and dramatic
depiction of these introductory scenes catches the spirit of Wagner’s score
and text while yielding an individual approach to the current Lyric Opera
production. In his admonishments to the Grail knights and attendants Mr. Youn
uses his rich bass voice with remarkable facility. Lines such as “Sorgt f¸r
das Bad!” (“Prepare the bath!”) and “Der Kˆnig stˆhnt!” (“The
king is groaning!”) are intoned with a sense of authority combined with
underlying compassion. Forte pitches were sung as natural extensions
of the vocal line and Youn’s intonation showed a deep understanding of the
communicated text. At times the pronunciation of unstressed final syllables was
overly exact, a tendency which detracted only slightly from an otherwise
exemplary Gurnemanz. The fluttering character of Kundry is captured aptly in
Ms. Karanas’s approach. She used her secure and extensive vocal range in such
lines as, “nur Ruhe will ich … Schlafen! – oh, dafl mich keiner wecke!
Nein! Nicht schlafen! – Grausen faflt mich!” (“I simply wish to rest … to
sleep! Oh, let no one awaken me! But no, not sleep! – Fear takes hold of
me!”) in order to emphasize the ambiguity inherent in Kundry’s
persona. In the role of Amfortas, as a means to communicating without
doubt the King’s suffering Mr. Hampson emoted in an interpretation that
should have depended more on a sung line if it were to remain lyrically and
dramatically credible. The Parsifal of Mr. Groves is sung with a warm tone
suggesting innocence and identification with his mother, important for her
descent from the family of the Grail. Decorations performed by Groves on the
line “Im Walde und auf wilder Aue waren wir heim” [“We made our home in
the forest and on the open meadow”] indicate his identification with kinship
and defense of his upbringing until the present. The trio of Gurnemanz, Kundry,
and Parsifal interacts with progressing revelations concerning the youth and
the atmosphere into which he was destined to find himself. Youn’s character
becomes gradually paternal as he recognizes Parsifal’s heritage and attempts
to guide him toward the Grail’s true essence. [“nun lafl zum frommen Mahle
mich dich geleiten” (“now let me lead you toward the sacred repast”)].
After a procession of knights has passed, the King is once again brought in to
experience the presence of the Grail at the sacred hour [“hoch steht die
Sonne” (“the sun stands now at its height in the sky”)]. In response to
Amfortas and his emotional cries of “Wehe!” in this production, Parsifal
moves slightly closer to the suffering victim, yet only as a demonstration of
curiosity. The collected knights of the Grail, here very well prepared in their
diction and controlled projection, recite the invitation “Nehmet vom Brod …
Nehmet vom Wein” [“Partake of the bread … Partake of the wine”] before
the prostrate Amfortas is removed on his pallet. In the final image before the
act’s end Youn as Gurnemanz reacts with appropriate derision over
Parsifal’s inaction [“Du bist doch eben nur ein Tor” (“You are nothing
but a simple fool”)], as he commands the youth to leave.

The realm of Klingsor in Act Two illuminates the ambivalent character of
Kundry and makes further apparent, as if from a distance, the failings in the
present generations of the Grail. This act also prepares the audience to
experience the resolution of such deficiencies through Parsifal as protagonist
during the final act. As such, the trio of performers in Act Two is vital to
the continued development of Wagner’s aesthetic. Ms. Karanas and Mr. Groves,
joined by the Klingsor of baritone TÛmas TÛmasson, made of this act a model
of vocal and dramatic excitement. Klingsor is dressed in this production in a
variegated red costume with the same hue painted onto his face. He is further
positioned in a stylized neon structure, also in red, which emits smoke from
the tower at his commands. As TÛmasson proclaimed “Die Zeit ist da!” and
“Herauf zu mir!” [“The time has come!” and “I summon you up to assist
me!”] the stage was set for Parsifal’s arrival and Kundry’s obedient
responses. TÛmasson’s interpretation of the sorcerer is impressive for his
vibrant, dramatic vocalism as well as his physical involvement in Klingsor’s
demands. His performance of Klingsor’s laugh is equally chilling as he
witnesses Parsifal’s approach and describes the hero’s searching glances
into the magical garden [“Wie stolz er nun steht auf der Zinne!” (“How
proudly he is standing there on the parapet!”)] After Klingsor’s
interaction with Kundry, he conjures the flower-maidens to tempt Parsifal. This
scene was effectively staged with costumes and movements even overdone in some
respects. Kundry’s subsequent attempts to seduce Parsifal and her further
revelations concerning his heritage and mother Herzeleide were delivered by
Karanas with superb control, especially in the upper register. Groves’
Parsifal truly came into his own in this act, as he unleashed dramatic pitches
on “Die Klage” (“The lament”) and a moving legato approach to
“Erlˆsungswonne” (“joy of redemption”).

In a fitting preparation for the resolution of Act Three the production
stages clearly the demise of Klingsor and his realm via his own spear. Parsifal
catches the weapon to put an end to this magical and destructive kingdom. With
this spear and resolve to atone for his own failings Groves as Parsifal
proceeds to seek out the Grail as Act three develops. His ultimate healing of
Amfortas’s interminable cries of “Wehe!” with the application of the
spear, now transformed in its effect, elevates both the kingdom of the Grail
and Parsifal’s own position in this production’s unforgettable

Salvatore Calomino

image_description=Paul Groves as Parsifal. Act 1. [Photo by Dan Rest]
product_title=Parsifal, Chicago
product_by=A review by Salvatore Calomino
product_id=Above: Paul Groves as Parsifal. Act 1. [Photo by Dan Rest]