Magazine article The Spectator

Musical Marvel

Magazine article The Spectator

Musical Marvel

Article excerpt


English National Opera, in rep until 12 March

It is some time since any of the masterpieces of Wagner's high maturity has been staged in London, so ENO's revival of Parsifal was most welcome, despite memories of the irritations and worse of the production in 1999. Since then it has toured the world, and achieved contemporary immortality on DVD, a performance recorded in BadenBaden. The ENO revival is directed by Daniel Dooner, and is quite extensively revised, though not nearly extensively enough for my taste.

But before I deal with it, I want to hymn the praises of the musical side, which is in most respects quite wonderful. This is Mark Wigglesworth's first Parsifal, though listening to it that is very hard to believe. Not only is his musical conception flawless, but the ENO orchestra also plays with incredible, untiring beauty and power. Usually you can judge how good a performance of Parsifal will be from the Prelude, and on the first night it was played in a way that invited the most noble comparisons. Pacing, balancing, the achievement of that kind of transparency which everyone rightly goes on about in relation to this score, all were perfect.

When the curtain rose on the uniquely grim set, John Tomlinson immediately established authority as Gurnemanz, and continued with almost undiminished resources for the whole evening. This is a role that lies very well for his voice in its present state, but previously he has tended to be gravelly, where, given the dimensions of the part, he needs to at least sound, sometimes, mellifluous. Not quite managing that, Tomlinson's stage presence is still so powerful that it matters less than you might think. Only in the ecstatic climax of Act III was he unable to persuade. But he inhabits the part in a way that I thought no one any longer could.

He is matched by Stuart Skelton's Parsifal, a role that for some reason escapes almost everyone who attempts it. Skelton is a rudimentary actor, but his voice is strong, youthful and beautiful, and he uses it so intelligently that Parsifal's redemptive achievement is credible, or would be in a better production. The trickiest role is that of Amfortas, whose sufferings are so intense that an adequate expression of them is likely to lead an audience to distance itself by thinking of him as self-pitying. Iain Patterson manages to avoid that, partly through the remorse he shows towards his dying (in Act I) and dead (in Act III) father Titurel.

The salient weaknesses of the cast are the Kundry of Jane Dutton, who makes the lyrical parts of her role dull and lustreless, though she is adequate when she begins to show temperament, and the far too mellowvoiced Klingsor of Tom Fox, though he is not helped by the bizarre setting of an X-rayed pelvis in which he is located. …

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