Opera North’s production of Wagner’s final work for the stage arrives in a blaze of glory from director Sam Brown’s theatrical staging in Leeds but what is served up at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester is much more muted in its dramatisation, and although the work was originally written with the orchestra below the stage to add acoustic and psychological drama, here it was very much centre and fore.
Running at just over four hours stage time, Parsifal tells the story of the Knights of the Holy Grail, much of it narrated by a veteran knight, Gurnemanz (Brindley Sherratt). The castle of Monsalvat has been established by Titurel (Stephen Richardson) as a sanctuary for the Holy Grail and the Spear that pierced Christ’s side, before retiring in favour of his son, Amfortas (Robert Hayward), who now finds himself plagued as a result of a wound that will never heal, delivered by the magician, Klingsor Derek Welton) using the Holy Spear.
A pure fool later identified as Parsifal (Toby Spence) arrives and engages with Kundry (Katarina Karnéus) who is in fact responsible for much of Amfortas’ plight. The question is now whether Parsifal can avoid Kundry’s obvious temptation, the distractions of the Flowermaidens (Miranda Bevin; Samantha Clarke; Helen Évora; Elin Pritchard; Victoria Sharp; Kathryn Stevens) and bring some much-needed redemption for Amfortas.
The Bridgewater Hall provides the perfect musical venue with its fantastic acoustics and the orchestra conducted by Richard Farnes very much bring this tale to life embodying its magic and mystery, as well as some chorale-type settings in the opening and final acts, playing with a sense of delight and adventure throughout and providing the audience with its very own salvation.
In accompaniment, the principal singers read very much like the dream line up so what’s not to like? Well, the orchestra filled the performance stage leaving room only for chairs at the front for them to occupy with the chorus relegated – or should that be promoted – to the heavens behind the stage where they sung like angels. With everyone dressed in black – with the exception of a white shirted Parsifal – there was a strong argument for each principal voice being an instrument extension of the orchestra which is no bad thing but where’s the drama? With the limited space – and despite the best attempts of the cast to inject some action – it did feel a little more like a rehearsal, albeit a very good one.
Hayward with his power and wide tremolo delivers a perfectly pain-ridden Amfortas, holding his wounded side throughout, as much perhaps to hold in the performance that was bursting to get out of him, whilst Welton as his nemesis clearly enjoyed playing the villain as did we. Richardson gave a solid and composed Titurel.
Karnéus’ voice seemed somewhat subdued by the orchestra in the opening act but came in to her own in the second act providing great emotional conviction and strong diction. Spence seemed to get equally overcome by the music on occasions and perhaps relied too much on his boyish good looks and charm although his performance perfectly caught the symbolism of the piece, and it would be good to see what he could deliver on a full stage.
Sherratt was the standout for me, a veteran performer playing a veteran, full of grit, and a massive voice perfectly filling a massive role: bravo!
Special mention for the Flowermaidens who sung and performed beautifully and their attempts to charm certainly worked on me.
Musically exceptional, this production needs the space to allow a corresponding performance from its principal singers.
Full tour details at https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on/parsifal-2022-on-tour/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 12th June 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★