OPERA MAGAZINE, MILAN – SOFIA: PARSIFAL – Richard Wagner, 8 July 2017 by Andrea Merli / 21 July 2017
07 Sep 2017

OPERA MAGAZINE, MILAN – SOFIA: PARSIFAL – Richard Wagner, 8 July 2017 by Andrea Merli / 21 July 2017

“Parsifal” is the last music drama by Richard Wagner, presented for the first time on stage on 26 July 1882, at the Bayreuth Festival, production of Hermann Levy, but presented for the first time at European theatres just after 1 January 1914, at that the first spectacle in Bologna was with Giuseppe Borgatti. (Wikipedia)

Whatever thinks the favourite Raina Kabaivanska, who many times and not quite as a joke publically reproached me for some of my recensions about Wagner’s works, presented at the National Opera in Sofia, about which, fast from time immemorial, I had possibility to inform in the Italian press, more specially in the “l’Opera” magazine and the radio broadcasting “Barcaccia”, asserting that “the Bulgarian voices were not created to sing Wagner!“, the good day was recognized still from the morning of the tetralogy, performed year after year with brave and a little bit hard constancy, and it is now going on a tour outside of Bulgaria – in 2018 it will be presented in Moscow. Then followed other works by the German Maestro in a crescendo of vocal and musical maturing. Now with its newest production of “Parsifal”, for the first time in Bulgaria, the whole National Opera in Sofia and the soloists, all of them Bulgarians, it must be emphasized that they were awarded a Wagner diploma for “protected designation of origin”.

To believe with firm faith is “pure stupidity“, if we paraphrase the title in question, but exactly this does Plamen Kartaloff, Director of the theatre and stage director, in this and in other cases, impeccable in his dramaturgical intuitions, characterized by clear reading, and also educational one for an audience with poor knowledge of Wagner, and also with attention to the youngest spectators, for which the works are presented in a reduced and translated version, opera “in pocket-size”, as they do in the cycle of Opera Lombardia. 

And if the tetralogy was rewritten like a manga comic, inspired by the visionary Japanese graphic art, for the other works the key is different.

For example in this “Parsifal”, set design by Numen and Ivana Jonke, and costumes by Stanka Vauda, the essential is in a minimalistic, but far not holographic vision, the division of both worlds: the one of the knights of the Grail in black and white, with prevailing of the grey, leaden and mat, fast deprived of light, because of the weakness of Amfortas, where the old, feeble Titurel reminds of the ghost of Banquo; red and black in the castle and Klingsor’s magic garden, where the action takes place on a construction and on a path, and one enters in holes in a huge pillow, inflated with air under pressure, which gives it rounded and body forms, obviously a symbol of the mother’s womb, which Parsifal regrets. Other hangings fall down from the ceiling, hanging over the вbig rotating platform on the stage, it wraps up and unwinds, reminding, according to the action, now impenetrable wood, now the columns of the holy temple. The platforms sink, turning into a lakeside with water, where Parsifal and Kundry baptize themselves; at the end we see in the finale the rebel-hero, directed to the future, in which the redeemed Kundry becomes his wife and, one could suppose, mother of Lohengrin.        

All this quiet elegance, the happy significance, and also the fantastic play of the light, with the purposeful use of LED lighting, a deed of Andrei Hajdinjak, is absolutely overwhelming – the work with its four and a half hours has flown away and was enthusiastically applauded by the audience, which on Satyrday, 8 July, again filled in the hall for the second performance.

The audience liked very much also the musical part – at first place the orchestra, which with the years acquired indisputable individuality and endurance. It perfectly copes with the fine presentation of the sound and the creating of those often imperceptible atmosphere, which Wagner spills generously, but also it outlines moments of a greater emphasis.

Wonderful performance of the chorus, as always conducted by Violeta Dimitrova, to which for the case adds the also superb choir of children’s voices of the Bulgarian National Radio, directed by Venetsia Karamanova. The merit for the success is at most of the young conductor Constantin Trinks, born in Karlsruhe in 1975, who more and more imposes himself among the young German conductors, after being with Kazushi Ono and Christian Thielemann in Bayreuth. His reading is to be remembered and very impacting effective.        

The team was consulted, as by Wagner’s previous works, by one exceptional music connoisseur, Richard Trimborn, but what never stops amazing us is the fact that all performers from both casts are Bulgarians – which confirms that in all cases, including by Wagner, Bulgaria continues to be a mine for voices. Stаrting with the evergreen tenor Kostadin Andreev, for whom time has as if stopped, having in mind his youthful appearance, which makes him ideally suitable for the role of Parsifal, endowed with vocal qualities, which don’t show signs of weakening. During the years – I am quoting at random and from memory – we have listened to him like Andrea Chénier, Cavaradossi, Hoffmann from “Les contes” and recently in Wagner’s roles, which are already a new additional specialty of his. His voice, rich in harmonies, flies with a beautiful timbre, acquiring density in the central zone, without losing the ease in the heights. Also very good is Radostina Nikolaeva, Kundry – a lyric soprano лирично with tendency to dramatic one, with harmonic a tender voice, which becomes sharp and biting. One unrestrained Kundry, at moments wild and fierce, but as well seductive and dreamy at the order of the magician Klingsor. He was wonderfully performed by the baritone Biser Georgiev with a voice in dark tones and powerful presence, in the energetic phrasing, as well as in the convincing acting.

The role of Gurnemanz according to the common recognition was maybe the most exposed, because, although it really doesn’t take part in Act II, it has a lot of singing In the first and in the last act. This is why the physical and vocal endurance is its important characteristic. To this challenge he replied with a stage persuasion and before all in musical aspect the wonderful bass Angel Hristov, authoritative, but also fatherly in the scanning of the sung words. Also excellently presented himself the baritone Atanas Mladenov, e young-looking Amfortas, but visibly suffering, sung very well with a voice with a wonderful righness. More at a secondary plan is the role of Titurel, wonderfully presented by the powerful bass Petar Buchkov, an old acquaintance, and not only from Wagner’s operas. At the end, perfect were also the so called supporting roles – the Knights of the Grail Hrisimir Damyanov and Stefan Vladimirov, the Esquires Rada Toteva, Ina Petrova (who is also one of the Flower Maidens), Krasimir Dinev and Kalin Dushkov. The Flower Maidens, sexy and very engaged in choreographic movements, besides the mentioned Petrova, Lyubov Metodieva, Marieala Aleksandrova, Mirela Yabandzhieva, Angelina Mancheva and Aleksandrina Stoyanova-Andreeva.

For the initiative, which without exaggeration we could call titanic, significantly contributed the tireless Vera Beleva, Assistant Director, and the irreplaceable Yulia Krasteva, Music Assistant – two supporting posts of the Sofia Opera.

Andrea Merli