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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Mattei’

For decades, a performance of a Wagner opera at the Met would mean that it would be conducted by the music director James Levine, whose credentials had been endorsed by 15 seasons in Bayreuth. Since decaying health and PR debacle put an end to his career, the New York opera house had its share of Italian maestros but finally has decided to look closer to home in its own new music director, Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Seguin. He is no newcomer in this repertoire, having conducted Lohengrin and Der fliegende Holländer in the Vienna State Opera, for example.

In the first bars of this evening’s performance I did think of my only Parsifal in Vienna (1999, Jun Märkl) in its clarity and cleanliness. Later on, the absence of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and its refulgent string section would be missed. The Met Orchestra can produce Wagnerian orchestral sound, but not really within the limits of this lighter and more transparent sound picture, when it veers towards the colorless and poorly articulated. It is no wonder that the purely orchestral passages would be the highlights of this performance.

Blaming the orchestra (and the chorus, whose lack of purity is particularly problematic in this piece) would be oversimplifying matters. Mr. Nézet-Seguin is an extremely objective Wagnerian, in a way that would make Georg Solti sound like Hans Knappertsbusch in comparison. As long as his straight-to-the-matter approach was allied to a certain directness in what regards tempo, this proved to be a viable and valid approach, not dissimilar to Riccardo Muti’s Wagner performances at La Scala (dismissed by many as overfast and unambitious). The first scene with Amfortas, however, hinted at a problematic turn in his concept. There, the conductor tried something more traditionally Wagnerian, i.e., flexibility of beat in order to achieve a certain gravitas to the proceedings. Then, one started to feel an increasing number of full stops in the discourse. Without depth of sound and no real profoundness of meaning, pauses sounded like silence and rubato sounded like lingering.

Act 2 is the one that generally benefits from conductors who keep things moving on, but here Mr. Nézet-Seguin seemed conflicted between Reginald Goodall and Pierre Boulez. His shifting from overslow to overfast would make some specialists in baroque opera envious. When you have singers of legendary tonal variety, they can fill in the blanks of the orchestral playing. Knappertsbusch had Martha Mödl and Régine Crespin in Bayreuth. This was not always the case this evening. As usual, act 3 tends to inspire conductors to give their best and the final note was rather positive, if not truly illuminating.

I had seen Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry in Tokyo and was a bit disappointed by the fact that she was caught short with the exposed acuti in the end of act 2. For this second encounter, I decided to hope that she would be in top form and flash Spitzentöne in the auditorium. I couldn’t be more off the mark. As a matter of fact, Ms. Herlitzius has never sung more subtly than she did this evening. She tried all kinds of softer dynamics and her intent to sing legato even involved the use of portamento. As she deals with the text adeptly, one felt drawn to her interpretation. The problem remains that, if her control of the passaggio was masterly, she still finds the dramatic high notes difficult, what is surprising for an experienced Brünnhilde. Sometimes, her voice sounded poorly focused, even if the squalliness was less pronounced than what one would expect.

Klaus Florian Vogt’s monochrome Parsifal is not the best fit to this performance. Whenever the conductor gave him time to produce a dramatic effect, one would just hear a note sung after the other with very little affection. Maybe I’ve grown too accustomed to James King’s recordings, but it all sounded reined in and lacking dynamic variety. It is true that the one color suggests innocence and youth, but this is a long opera and one needs a little bit more than that.

Peter Mattei’s tighly focused baritone is consistently pleasant to the ears and he phrases with the imagination and sensitivity of a Lieder singer. His Amfortas sounded particularly vulnerable and expressive. He would be tested when the writing demanded a little bit more power, and this was the only thing between him and complete success in this role. This was not a problem shared by Evgeny Nikitin, whose superpowerful bass-baritone finds no difficulty  in the role of Klingsor. Moreover, he seems to have fun in bad-guy roles. It is a pity that René Pape was not in his best voice. The way it grated whenever he tried mezza voce made me think he has the flu or something like that. He would sound more comfortable in act 3, but even then this does not compare to his usual standards in the role. In any case, this is still comparing him to himself.

I am not sure about François Girard’s 2013 production. It is indeed very creative in its low-cost quality and the way it explores powerful and simple symbols, but the red/black/white colors and the wet-baby-doll-contest Flower-maidens made me think of Las Vegas. Also, the male/female imbalance storyline has been – even if less clearly – more insightfully explored elsewhere.

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