Newspaper Kultura, Boyanka Arnaudova – Parsifal – А deed of adherents – About the new premiere of the Sofia Opera
21 Jul 2017

Newspaper Kultura, Boyanka Arnaudova – Parsifal – А deed of adherents – About the new premiere of the Sofia Opera

Through compassion to knowledge,

from knowledge to compassion,

through compassion to love.


Actually, these are the three circles, through which passes Parsifal, the destined one, der reine Tor, the fool with pure heart, the future guardian of the Grail and Lord of the Temple. The boy from the wood, grown with love by a mother-martyr, carefully protected against chivalry.

A grown up child of nature, similar to Siegfried, who must come out of his simplicity. Towards reality he sets out unconsciously, misled/lured by the glitter of the knights in polished armour, run across in the wood. And he is already the vagrant and very strong Parsifal, who kills involuntary, like in a play, filled with the pleasure from the precision of his arrow. His victim becomes the holly for the knights of the Grail white swan – symbol of his own innocence and originality. An act, followed by the first lesson of the wise Gurnemanz. And there starts the transformation of Parsifal, who, passing through the trials of the neophyte, will find the Truth, the Grail, the Love and God.

Wagner, still when writing the libretto of his opera “Lohengrin”, read also the story of Parsifal.

The unceasing interest of the genius in the myths, in the ancient legends and the medieval art led him to the famous poetical epos of the Bavarian knight Wolfram von Eschenbach, one of the most talented and remained permanently in the history minstrels (moreover, he is a character also in “Tannhäuser”). In him he found the archetype of the characters from the future opera. This way, decades in a series, in Wagner germinated the idea about a music drama with theme Parsifal. During the years will appear several opuses, preparing the mystery. Still in 1848, he drafted sketches for a play, dedicated to Jesus from Nazareth, in which was included also the sinner – the penitent Maria Magdalena. Here are the proto-characters of Parsifal and Kundry. In the written by the poet Wagner already are set the main moments of the future Act III of the mystery. Later, during the composing of “Tristan”, he again sketched a drama – “Die Sieger” (about 1855), based on the Buddhist idea for redemption through purification. Here the analogy with the opera characters is obvious; there is only need to change the Indian names, the Buddhist nirvana with the Christian self-denial, and the Buddhist community – with the Brothers guardians of the Grail. A transfiguration, which the author will implement somewhat later. Wagner himself told how on Good Friday in 1857, contemplating the wonderful Alpine nature from the terrace of his home in Switzerland, he had received an insight about the Cross and heard an angelic chorus singing: “Lay down your weapons! Do not offend the Lord, who today, bereft of all arms, offered His holy blood to redeem the sinful world!”

Inspired, exalted, Wagner wrote splendid mystical verses, which Gurnemanz will sing in Act III, explaining to Parsifal the mystery of Good Friday. The libretto was published in 1877, and after a five-year work, on 13 January 1882, “Parsifal” was finished. In it are present also Buddhist elements – about the pacification and the migration of the soul, which doesn’t die, it only reincarnates. But here categorically dominate the Christian symbolic and rites.

The premiere was on 26 July 1882 in Bayreuth. The composer forbad the work to be performed outside of his theatre, convinced that this festive stage mystery cannot sound and be experienced elsewhere. In a letter to Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, Wagner wrote: “It is not possible a spectacle, in which on the stage are revealed most sublime mysteries of Christian religion, to be produced in theatres, where on other days has made itself comfortably frivolity... Only there (Festspielhaus, Bayreuth) and nowhere else must be produced “Parsifal” – for all times to come.” An order, which in 1913 was cancelled by his widow Cosima Liszt–Wagner.

The Grail – this is the Chalice, in which was gathered the blood of Christ, and the Spear is the one, with which was pierced the Saviour at the Cross; guardians of the temple are knights, reminding of the Knights Templar. Initiated servants and warriors of God, they observe a severe spiritual statutes, preaching tolerance, chastity, denial of the mundane enjoyments and carnal pleasures. In the Temple is conserved the Grail, the mediator, which unites them with the supreme Will and endows them with Wisdom and Divine Light. Which teaches them love, compassion and sympathy. By Eschenbach, as well as by Chrétien de Troyes, the idea is that the Grail is actually in every one of us, we must only find the path, on which to go towards nobility and knowledge.

Having passed through most various peripeties of human existence and thinking – from the ideas about liberation through compassion (“Der fliegende Holländer”), about the kingdom of good and love (“Lohengrin”), about the collision between carnal and chaste, pure love, about the overcoming of basic passions through suffering, wandering and death (“Tannhäuser”), in his last opus Wagner unites these conceptions. Only to the naïve fool Parsifal it is predestined, after many peripeties and a long wandering, to achieve the knowledge, the compassion, the pure love and the perfect harmony. An image–emanation of the Dutchman and Senta, Elsa and Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and Elisabeth, Siegfried and Brünnhilde.

Again are being interpreted the relations man-woman, the conflict between the genders, the themes about initiation, predetermination and sacrifice. Naturally, the influence of the great German philosophers of the age cannot be ignored, as well as the fact that Wagner is not only a musician, he is not only a composer, but also an observer with very sharp penetrating look, with which he analyses the reality, the character and the spirit of his contemporaries and their social life.

Bestowed not only with musical and poetical gift, but also with enormous intuition, he can see through far forward in time, to interpret and present the permanent problems of the civilized European. The intuition and the intellect lead him to high insights, shared in his dramas. Wagner is not only music, Wagner is that clairvoyant, who with his art, covered in symbolic, “writes down” messages, warnings, directions for perfectioning, ennoblement and unification with the divine.

With “Parsifal” finished brilliantly the season of the National Opera – Sofia. This is the sixth in series production of the most conceptual and perfect in their musical and dramaturgical realization dramas of his.

After “Der Ring des Nibelungen” and “Tristan und Isolde”, singers, chorus and orchestra, together with the ateliers and the technical services, have implemented one powerful and original interpretation, a fruit of the imagination and mastery of Plamen Kartaloff, director of the spectacle, of the designers Sven Jonke (set design) and Stanka Vauda (costumes), and Andrei Hajdinjak – artistic lighting. The producer Plamen Kartaloff chose not to use many means, but the practical simplicity in the design of the stage, without his approach to take up of its efficiency. Bright is the suggestion of the sets in Act I and III, in the beginning a la impressionistic landscape in grey-blue-green (a clearing besides a lake, a wood), out of which after that forms itself the Temple of the Grail in its entire majesty. Beautifully and adequately to the scores are decided also both finales (of these two actions): the rotating circle with the white brothers-knights, the light, streaming from the beams of the Grail, and at the end the geometrical figure – image of the Chalice, plus the shine of the Spear. There is also an allusion to the round table and the knights of King Arthur in the arrangement, in the circle, in the middle of which are always the most important ones: Amfortas, Gurnemanz and Parsifal. Curious is the idea with the huge inflatable area in Act II, like moving water, among which Parsifal and Kundry now approaching, and now moving away, drawn by the current of their thoughts and feelings. (Probably it was not at all easy for them to sing on this changing terrain.) Plamen Kartaloff has analysed and penetrated into the deep layers of the mystery, thanks to which he develops and suggests to the performers not only the outside, plastic expression, but also the inner emotional movement, the symbolic of the characters. He skilfully galvanises the action, directing it to the sublime culminations in the big mass scenes. The musical training is excellent; moreover, the tutor, the knowing one (the style and the traditions), the inspirer of all former performers of Wagner’s operas here. An exceptional personality, the luck of the theatre! And of course, his unalterable collaborator, the conductor Velizar Genchev.

Conductor of “Parsifal” is Constantin Trinks – an erudite musician, who manages to enthral the orchestra, to carry into effect the characteristic style of the mystery. The orchestral scores are the dramaturgical basis, which, in difference to the “Ring”, don’t have many hinting motives, (so Wagner calls the leitmotifs): here are the Grail, the Communion, the Spear, the Faith, the Love; they are constructed not according to the standard, as an independent magnitude, free from the accumulated patterns and rules – on the principle of alteration of linear and harmonic layers/fragments of big scale and of very bright timbre detailing.

The orchestra unfolds the action, it accentuates the emotions, “comments” what’s happening, like the chorus in the ancient tragedy. Wagner not once, not twice mentioned how since a child he was attracted and was listening – with veneration and rapture – to the orchestral diversity of voices. Naturally, in his last work he has incorporated his ecstasy and mystical reverie too. Which are transferred strongly and impacting by the orchestra of the Opera. And let those, who quite often refer with a dose of condescension to the opera orchestra, hear it how it plays “Parsifal” – at that all 4 hours long, reciprocally to two monumental symphonies by Bruckner, for example. The conductor wonderfully models the contrasts between the austere solo phrases and the majestic harmonic columns of the prelude of many colours, the mystic, the purifying sound fasciation and performances with the elevated episode of the mystery of Good Friday, as well as the final apotheosis.

The singers, who made the premiere on 4 July this year, we know as very successful also in the previous Wagner productions. Now also there was a stylish selected cast of suitable – in timbre, plasticity and emission, voices. Kostadin Andreev sang of full value the part of the protagonist, which obviously suits his voice and artistic naturel. With him we witness – spontaneously and emotionally, the transformation of the wild, overly trusting and silly boy into the courageous knight and Lord of the Grail; the first experience of pain from the killing of the swan, and from the news about the death of his mother, the first outburst of compassion and sympathy. Complex states, outlined with different shades of the voice, with different nuances and dynamics – Kostadin Andreev is already a very experienced master in interpretation of the big Wagner tenor roles. Peculiar, specific is the character of Kundry, which has three transformations – the savage, faithfully serving the knights, but without being given access to the Temple; the witch, who brought from far away a cure for Amfortas’ wound, the subjected to Klingsor seducer, and at the end – the repentant, which like Maria Magdalena washes and dries with her hair Parsifal’s feet. Radostina Nikolaeva with temperament and professionalism was transforming herself, overcoming vocal and most of all actor’s difficulties. Probably excitement of the premiere prevailed in Act II, where some moments could be saturated with more vocal power, mainly in the lower register, and to be outlined more the melodic and sensual beauty of the seducer’s phrases. Amfortas, the son of King Titurel, to whom was entrusted the Kingdom of the Grail, is also a role, requiring a lot of musicality, artisticism and conviction in the sense and the symbolic of the character, in order to express its entire shaking suffering – physical and spiritual.

The pains from the sin and the incurable wound, the consciousness of the failed vow to preserve holy the Spear, which bestowed power upon the knights, the wish for death, the dreamt redemption from sin – these are delicate states of mind, which Atanas Mladenov voiced expressively – musically an emotionally. Amfortas is an enormous achievement for the young singer, who outlined himself not only with his beautiful baritone, but also with generous rendering of energy, with intelligent giving a meaning of the messages and the moral of the character. Also for Angel Hristov Gurnemanz is a bright, high artistic achievement. In both, enormous in their length, actions he is the narrator, the presenter, to him the author has assigned not only the exposition of the opera, but also all – at some places too verbose episodes, in which in details he explains events, situations, personalities and so on. The bass Angel Hristov demonstrated a wonderful vocal form, pronunciation and diction, masterly leading of the dialogue, following/transmission of the rhythmic of the big and poetical monologues; and without any doubt, he knows, realizes and addresses to the audience the most important words, thoughts and messages.

Although a smaller one, the role of the magician Klingsor, the metaschematism of Armida (magic gardens, to the temptations of which she submits the knight René, in whom she also falls in love – “Jerusalem Delivered” by Tasso), was effectively performed by Biser Georgiev. Freshness brought the performers of the Flower Maidens, winding their arms around and weakening with their fleeting temptations many of the knights of the Grail. Some of the most playful, sensual, feminine pages of the composer. Everyone, in their smaller, but important in this festive mystery roles – Titurel, Knights and Esquires, were on a high level and contributed to the success of the premiere, prepared for one year.

Including the Chorus of the Opera (chorus master Violeta Dimitrova) and the Children’s Choir of the Bulgarian National Radio (chorus master Venetsia Karamanova), which left the memory of the ensemble sound magnificence in the shaking chorales, composed with contrapunctual and harmonic mastery; majestic frescoes by Wagner, burst forth out of the Renaissance springs and Monteverdi.

“Parsifal” of the National Opera again convinced us that the high and impacting art is achieved with tenacious, purposeful, masterly work in details over text, scores, stage scenes... This is a deed of a collective of adherents, and not of artists and producers, gathered together for the case for several weeks. In our national ensemble theatre everything was rehearsed, understood, assimilated and is performed without nervosity, surprises or collapses.

In it singers, chorus and orchestra are making music (and act), self-confident, they reveal of full value their abilities, they transfer with inspiration Wagner’s Testament. This felt the audience – the music, the interpretation took possession of the hall, which, after 5 hours and a half, remained full and applauded enthusiastically. Because, as Wagner wrote, “In brother’s love is the bliss! Believe and hope!”.

Boyanka Arnaudova