Wagner Notes

[The following review by Ako Imamura is excerpted from the February 2017 issue of Wagner Notes, the bimonthly publication of the Wagner Society of New York; it is sent free of charge to all Society members. ©2017. All rights reserved.]

Parsifal in Amsterdam
Parsifal. Principals: P. Lang, C. Ventris, G. Groissböck, B. Everink, R. McKinny. Dutch National Opera: M. Albrecht, cond.; P. Audi, production; J. Kalman, lighting; A. Kapoor, sets; C. Hetzer, costumes; G. Skrela: movement. Performance of Dec. 25, 2016.


Parsifal, Dutch National Opera,  Dec. 2016. L. to r.: Gurnemanz (Günther Groissböck)admonishing Parsifal (Christopher Ventris), Act I.
Groissböck had a triumph inthis role debut. He is known to WSNY audiences for his Wolfram  in the Met Tannhäuser  in Oct. 2015. He also
participated in the Society’s Met Cast Roundtable on Oct. 25 (see it on our YouTube channel). This spring he will sing Don Fernando in

Fidelio and Baron Ochs in the new production of Der Rosenkavalier at the Met, and he will be the Society’s honoree at our Special Contributors
reception on March 26.   Photo: Ruth Walz.

Two phrases in Parsifal are particularly poignant and moving to me, both sung by Gurnemanz. In Act I, as the Grail elder Gurnemanz prepares to accompany the young innocent fool Parsifal to the knights’ ritual, he responds to Parsifal’s bewildered comment: “Ich schreite kaum, doch wähn’ ich mich schon weit” (I scarcely tread, yet seem already to have come far) with “Du siehst, mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit” (You see, my son, time here becomes space). Although penned by Wagner several decades before Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, these words distill the essence of human existence. My second favorite moment occurs in Act III, when Gurnemanz declares Parsifal “Du Reiner” (You pure of heart) as the Grail music soars.

Pierre Audi’s 2012 production of Parsifal was revived in Amsterdam in December. The production is abstract, simple and arresting, with Jean Kalman’s lighting creating colorful and striking images. The staging in Act I is the most complex. During the Prelude, red lines appear on the black screen, and as the curtain rises we see the lone figure of Gurnemanz lamenting among the scattered wooden objects made of planks and sticks that are not quite crosses. With large rocks and boulders in the back, it is a stark and desolate landscape dominated by red lighting.

At Parsifal’s entrance, a life-size stuffed swan drops from above with a thump. Parsifal wields a stick, not a bow and arrow. The director resorts to using a black curtain from stage right to close the set for the Grail transformation, thereby robbing the drama of my first favorite moment: Gurnemanz utters his musing on time and space on the side of the stage as he and Parsifal exit behind the curtain.

The Grail scene is impressive, with a set of several tall wooden structures similar to Audi’s production of Guillaume Tell, seen this season at the Met. The structures are an ideal vehicle to position the excellent men and women of the chorus. Towering over the soloists, the Grail knights and heavenly voices produce an otherworldly effect. The sets become increasingly sparse and minimal as the opera proceeds. Act II is dominated by a huge round metallic object hung in the middle, reflecting images but with some distortion. The images are often a stunning collage of colors and shapes. The flower maidens are first cloaked in dark costumes concealing their faces, but they reveal elaborate petal dresses underneath. Staging is even simpler in Act III, with a large round cutout in the back. Blue light dominates the second half of the opera.

Other than the well-choreographed movements of the flower maidens in Act II and Grail knights in Acts I and III, stage direction seemed non-specific, and the principal singers were often left to their own devices. The second of my favorite lines, “Du Reiner,” was given from the middle of a largely empty stage. Parsifal’s final message of redemption was sung from the back of the stage, diminishing its transcendental beauty. The director failed to make these and other crucial words of Wagner’s text come alive and relevant. The stunning visual images sometimes did not connect with the drama to make this a truly memorable overall experience.

Marc Albrecht took a measured and leisurely tempo throughout, beginning with the Prelude. However, I felt a tremendous sense of tension and excitement in the often significant pauses he took. He brought out the chamber-music like quality of the score, with each instrumental section given equal weight; the balance was exquisite.

Günther Groissböck, the Austrian bass making his role debut as Gurnemanz, was the standout of the strong ensemble of soloists. His high notes were thrilling and his low notes were well developed. His tall and erect figure lent particular authority to the first and last images on stage, as Gurnemanz was the lone figure during the Prelude and was left alone on stage after Parsifal’s exit at the end of the opera. One almost wanted to name the opera “Gurnemanz” not “Parsifal.” Groissböck’s rich and clarion bass also provided a variety of color to each word and phrase. He may well become a major Gurnemanz to be ranked among many a historic singer of the role.

Veterans Christopher Ventris as Parsifal and Petra Lang as Kundry were an intense and well-matched pair in the Act II duets. Lang’s incisive voice was well suited for the tormented heroine, while Ventris was not so much a youthful and exuberant Parsifal as a thoughtful youth ready for inspiration and knowledge. Ryan McKinny gave a strong performance as Amfortas, barely clad in Act I (as in his Bayreuth portrayal in 2016), with a voice of youthful timbre and thrust. The Klingsor, Bastiaan Everink, a former soldier of the Royal Dutch Marine Corps, provided a youthful and excellent vocal and physical presence even though he lacked the evil and sinister bite of the villain.

Ako Imamura        
Ako Imamura, a Society member, travels and reviews widely

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