So close to the Grail | Forum Opera

We forget it nowadays, but Brussels was for a long time a Wagnerian land of prime importance. The defeat of 1870 and the bitterness it engendered had the effect of banishing Wagner from French theatres. Belgium not having the same dispute with Germany, it was with enthusiasm that it took up the torch of Wagnerism until the outbreak of the First World War. Many French spectators made the shuttle to attend the creations of the operas of Wagner, in French language, and the first of Parsifal, in 1914, was an event of considerable range, of which all the press echoed, and where the city councilors local politicians wanted to be seen.

Alain Altinoglu wants to reconnect with this glorious tradition. After a Lohengrin exciting in 2018 and a Tristan of anthology in 2019, the French chef, all adorned with his performances in Bayreuth, is tackling Parsifal with a total lack of complex. What strikes first in its direction is its extreme clarity: clear attacks, a sound always cut, marked departures. Those who like an impressionist Wagner will be at their expense, but the experience is devilishly refreshing, and it has the advantage of capturing the attention of the public with ease, which is always more delicate in a concert version, deprived of the staging spells. We therefore follow the 4 hours and a few of the “sacred scenic festival” without any impression of length. Especially since theLa Monnaie Symphony Orchestra is determined to bring to his mentor all he can give in terms of quality of timbres, reserve of power, transparency. It’s a great evening of music, and the smiles or nods exchanged between the music stands are unmistakable. It would be necessary to name everyone, but it will suffice to pinpoint horns in a state of grace, and a timpanist as if intoxicated with the power he lavishes. At the same level of excellence, VSbacking vocals from La Monnaie show themselves as much at ease in the immense sacred ceremonies of I and III as in the outpourings of sensuality in II, with a tendency to push the volume that we will attribute to perhaps excessive enthusiasm, but who will complain that the bride is too beautiful? And then, feeling the floor of the Palais des Beaux-Arts tremble under his seat is perhaps a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure all the same. Similar level of voluptuousness with flower girls to die for.

Altinoglu’s growing reputation as an opera conductor attracts the best singers of the current generation around him. This Parsifal allows you to hear a dream cast, very comparable in quality to what Bayreuth has been offering in the same work in recent years. First there is the Gurnemaz of Franz-Josef Selig, whose timbre seems drawn from the same wood as that of Kurt Moll: radiant beauty, bass that seems limitless, and a total understanding of his character. These assets make you forget the fatigue that appears over the course of the evening, and the few shifts that are inevitable in a role of such length. Conversely, Werner Van Mechelen does not have such opulent means, but his Amfortas, lighter than what tradition has accustomed us to, touches the heart. The vocals are meticulous, with a precision in the modeling of the sound and in the volume which are those of a Liedersänger of the first order.

The title of Konstantin Gorny makes you regret that the role is so short, and limited to the first act. One would have liked to enjoy infinitely this bronze sound, this foundation which seems to plunge its roots to the center of the earth. The Chinese bass-baritone Shenyang has already sung and recorded Gunter with Jaap Van Zweden (Naxos), a rather lyrical role which did not predispose him to approach Klingsor. Yet he is impressively at ease and his imprecations send shivers down your spine. Here is a magician whose ascendancy over Kundry is understandable, and who manages to project his text without imitating the barkers who have long monopolized the character, by distorting it, even if sometimes with genius (Mazura!).

With the Kundry ofElena Pankratova, we go up another notch to enter the pantheon of Wagnerian singing. The Russian mezzo matured in the role in Bayreuth from 2016 to 2019, and she seems to have captured the essence of the character, a subtle mix between the wild, the seductive and the penitent. Vocally, this translates into a mastery of the entire range, where no break is audible, the vocals unfolding like a velvet carpet. Even the cries uttered by the desperate woman at several key moments in the drama are imbued with beauty as much as with dread, and no one would think of laughing at them, which is unfortunately very often the case with other holders. This voluptuousness of the sound in no way prevents the intelligibility of the text, and we are far from a pure decibel machine, even if the physical impact is undeniable.

Faced with such a partner, it is difficult for any Parsifal to exist. Particularly for Julian Hubbard. The tenor has a few assets: an ideal physique for the “chaste madman”, a stage presence that does not lack intensity, and a clear tone, where hints of heroism are already pierced, which allow him to deceive the first act. But the format is very short, and seems tiny in the face of the assaults of an overheated orchestra, and the hedonism of a Kundry who makes short work of it. Their duo will seem unbalanced, which will make the tenor nervous. In III, a treble from the finale is downright missed in “Nur eine Waffe taugt”, but the hero manages to keep his cool and finish without incident. Without resentment, the Brussels public will celebrate him at the time of applause as well as his colleagues. We bet, however, that with a more suitable Parsifal, this evening would have entered the annals of Wagnerian singing.

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So close to the Grail | Forum Opera


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