While the Fujiwara Opera Company is a rather conservative institution, Tokyo Nikikai Opera has showed the Japanese audience a rather adventurous repertoire on borrowing productions from some innovative opera houses in Europe while manning them with Japanese musicians. In its 60th anniversary season, it has programmed Claus Guth’s staging of Parsifal, as seen in Zurich and Barcelona.
Nobody can accuse Guth of inconsistency: the revolving stage, the rewriting the plot, the psychologization/trivialization of archetypal/mythological/symbolic figures and situations – they are all there. As told here, the story takes place right before WWII in a mansion turned into what seems to be a hospital for war-traumatized soldiers. Gurnemanz is the resident chaplain, a very much visible Titurel is the lord of the manor, whose two sons (?!) Amfortas and Klingsor cannot come to an understanding since their father began to display an obvious preference for the former. This preference means that: a) Amfortas is supposed to be the field hospital’s “king”; b) and that his privileges are basically being bullied by the medical staff and having the blood of his wound extracted by nurses and drank (in the grail) by his vampiric father, who shares the diluted version with the patients in a very choreographic ceremony in the “hospital”. Why Klingsor is envious of all that will remain a mystery. Brothers will eventually become chums again in the end, when Parsifal becomes some sort of military dictator and Kundry decides that she should hit the road and get a life after all.
Although the concept has many loose ends and is essentially contradictory (the “the redeemer has been redempt”-moral is here only an irony…), I do find interesting the idea that an institution bereft of its spiritual content (therefore, of its purpose) will still exist as self-parody, as the mechanical repetition of its sheer phisiology. Monsalvat’s purpose was to protect the holy grail and spear that together produce Christ’s blood in a miraculous and purifying rite. However, the king proved to be impure and failed to fulfill the institution’s purpose – he has lost the holy spear – but at this point the institution serves no longer its purpose but rather its own existence. A ceremony must be performed; if the miraculous blood cannot be produced, someone’s blood will have to do. The fact that it is the king’s blood being an interesting image of how a legitimate political project eventually becomes a power machine. It is a pity that this interesting aspect went lost in incoherence (the whole Parsifal-as-military-dictator (guess who we’re talking about…) episode, silliness (Parsifal trying to “cure” the symptoms of the mentally disturbed patient in a Mel Brooks-approach) and sheer misfiring (Kundry’s seduction scene followed by some 15 clueless extras.
Conductor Taijirou Iimori is an experienced Wagnerian with an impressively organized musical mind. The first five minutes of the performance perfectly balanced and more transparent than any other performance of this opera in my experience. Eventually, the maestro would have to deal with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra’s limitations in tonal glamour and homogeneity and his soloists’ lack of experience and vocal amplitude. Iimori must be praised by his commitment to the actual performance rather than his own concept: as a result, the performance took place without major incidents, but unfortunately without major revelations. I have the impression that he is the kind of conductor who works rather from detail than from the big picture; I often missed an act-long guiding line that would link the intention of isolated moments that would fade into grey zones before tension had to be build up from scratch. I would like to hear him in more “authentic” Wagnerian circumstances.
At first, I did not know what to think of Yuka Hashizume’s Kundry. She is not a dramatic soprano, but she has the stamina and the piercing quality for the exposed acuti; she is not a mezzo soprano, but her low register is warm, rich and voluminous enough; she is not really a bête de scène with a flashing personality, but she has an interesting subtle presence and also interpretative imagination and the technique to make it happen in tonal and dynamic variety. Hashizume is a singer with a wide range of possibilities, and I have the impression that all this could be focused into something truly amazing in less experimental milieux. She has sung Senta and Sieglinde in Japan in similar enterprises – it would be interesting to hear her how she would react to the influence of someone like Daniel Barenboim in the Lindenoper.
Kei Fukui was the Nikikai Opera’s Walther in their Meistersinger, but he is more usually seen in recitals in which he has plenty of opportunity to sing arias like Nessun Dorma and E lucevan le stelle, hardly the kind of tenor one would find in a Wagnerian cast in Europe. One could tell from his Italianized German, explosive phrasing and the habit of treating declaratory lines in a rather free way. Although his voice is big enough for this role, having to emulate a heldentenor (especially in the rather emotional way he understands this task to be) made he force too often and after a while he sounded basically tired. He still had his high notes, though, and had a “reiner Tor” thing about him, even if in a very generic manner.
Hiroshi Kuroda’s baritone has a really curdled sound and the results were often rough. He is a committed actor and could produce the necessary intensity. Kazuhiro Kotetsu has the voice for Gurnemanz, knows the text and Wagnerian style. His singing has many unfocused patches, though, and the interpretation is still wooden. This is, of course, a very challenging role usually cast with acknowledged singers and Kuroda is rather the ensemble’s leading bass (actually, I find it quite remarkable that the Nikikai Opera could cast from ensemble, in a way that only opera houses in Germany would do). Ryouhei Izumi proved to understand everything about Klingsor but the proper technique to sing the role. One could see what he wanted to do – and that this could be interesting – but rawness was one could ultimately hear. Tetsuya Odagawa’s Titurel was too woolly for comfort, but the flower maidens were very well cast.