Thursday, May 25, 2006

Double Shot of Wagner: Now less than 50% crap by volume!

I never wrote much about Lohengrin and Parsifal either. Darn. I'm not going to write full reviews of them, because honestly I slept through most of Lohengrin and I rather liked Parsifal and so have very little complain about.

Lohengrin was the Robert Wilson production, so basically it was exactly the same as the LA Parsifal. I swear, even Ortrud's dress was exactly the same as Kundry's in LA. I guess all bad women wear maroon sacks with a long train. What-the-fuck-ever, Robert Wilson, you asscancer. Anywho, like I said, I slept through most of it, because I had been traveling most of the day before. I was raged out by that point and had none to spare for Robert Wilson's stupid antics. Well, I had a little to spare, I guess. I am a bottomless well of rage when it comes to Robert Wilson. I had been kind of looking forward to seeing Karita Mattila as Elsa, because she's my favorite soprano, but her usual acting talents were completely hamstrung by Wilson's direction. She sounded fine; I don't know enough about the Wagnerian sound to say much beyond that. Speaking of Wilson's lameass direction, there was a hilarious part when Elsa and Lohengrin are heading to the church to get married, and since Wilson had to fill the entire interminable interlude (and also because he's a douchebag), he had them just drift in slow-motion up the stage. It reminded of the episode of Family Guy when newsman Tom Tucker has come to Meg's school, and Meg is in love with him, and (presumably) through her eyes, we see him walking down the school corridor in slow motion...only to find out that he really is moving in slow motion. Hee.

Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin) wins the prize for most elaborate name. I was expecting a loud, rather brassy Heldentenor, so it was kind of a shock when Vogt (who had to walk out onstage because his swan broke) started singing and he sounded like Ian Bostridge on steroids. It was bizarre, but not unpleasant. Vogt's voice is very light-sounding and sweet, but it's obviously big and strong enough to sustain Wagner. Too bad that he looked like he was suffering from a case of cobbles and was all painted gray.

The lady who played Ortrud's voice started falling apart in the last scenes. It was kind of shocking, but it worked with what was happening in the opera. Richard Paul Fink as Telramund sounded good too and looked less like Mr. Collins in Pride & Prejudice than usual. Sometimes his voice reminded me a little of Sherrill Milnes's. Odd. Rene Pape didn't have much to do as King Heinrich, and he looked pretty bored and annoyed and kept kicking his stupid costume around.

Wilson's production was, you guessed it, abstract and all white, gray, black, and light blue. The "fight" between Lohengrin and Telramund was fucking hilarious--they stood with their backs to the audience, but with their heads turned toward each other, and in a very stylized Italian fencing position (one arm raised and bent upward, the other pointed at their opponent). Then Lohengrin kind of moved at Telramund, and Telramund clapped one hand over his chest and slooooooowly fell. The abstract bullshit continued in the choral scenes when lines of female chorus members had to do random arm movements, like covering their distressingly braless breasts with their hands. But only the odd numbered rows of women did the movements, which I'm sure was supposed to have some kind of super-deep meaning that I just can't fathom. Whatever. By the end of the opera, all that was missing was that last Robert Wilson staple--the mostly nude, disturbingly underfed, painted-white child. And there he was! I think Robert Wilson has a ranch somewhere where he raises these skinny little children who can move in slow motion. Maybe he's even bred them to have that chalky white skin to avoid makeup costs. Creepy.

I was expecting to loathe Parsifal, because it's five and a half hours long and because I'd certainly loathed it in LA. I can blame all of that entirely on Robert Wilson though, because the Met's Parsifal was fabulous. With Wilson's Parsifal, I missed so much of the story of the opera and was just like Wha? There's a grail? And knights? Really? I suspect that in addition his other buttmonkeying, Wilson also tampered with the supertitles, because the libretto is full of vivid imagery that he had to do away with since he wasn't planning on showing it onstage and because, apparently, beauty and color make his skin bleed. The sets were kind of old and dark (the production is from 1991), but at least they showed what they were supposed to show. The meadow looked like a meadow, not a flat gray nothing with glowing white panels or some shit. There were even actual knights too, except they looked kind of like hobbits in armor, which made it really funny when Ben Heppner came out looking like Peter Jackson from the days of yore.

I felt like I finally got René Pape when hearing him in Parsifal. He's never struck me as anything particularly special before, aside from his very "special" (in the short-bus sense of the word) fashion sense (the man wears pink jeans!). But as Gurnemanz, he was tremendous. His acting was great, even if he did lay the Katharine Hepburn stuff on a little thick when he was being old Gurnemanz. Gurnemanz must be an incredibly tough role, because it's like at least two hours of info-dumping on the stage. Pape's voice was rich and rolling, and he told his expository stories in an intensely compelling way. Also, from far away, (well out of eyebag range), he was kind of hot.

Thomas Hampson was a very pleasant surprise as Amfortas. The Amfortas in LA just stood around looking blocky, so it was really hard to believe that he was in agony. Hampson acted very well, even though he has a tendency toward hamminess, it worked with Amfortas, because he's kind of emo. His voice sounded great too, not at all mannered, and it was loud. With Hampson, it was easy to understand the pity that moved Parsifal to find the spear to cure Amfortas, but it was equally as easy to be frustrated with Amfortas's weakness and selfishness. It just might be the role of Hampson's career.

Nikolai Putilin was evil and nasty without being diabolical as Klingsor. Ben Heppner was pretty good as Parsifal, especially when you consider that he hadn't shown up for the final dress rehearsal. He sounded a lot like Placido Domingo, though not necessarily in a good way. Domingo sometimes sticks his tongue in the back of his throat when singing high notes, making the sound kind of muffled or just aborted, and Heppner seemed to be doing the same thing.

The most miraculous performance was the night was that of Waltraud Meier as Kundry. Kundry is a very interesting (though from a female point of view, kind of horrible) character; she mocked Jesus when he was on the cross and was cursed, and has spent the last thousand years helping the Grail knights...while also helped Klingsor to trap, kill, and enslave them in the hopes of getting the Grail. It was Kundry who seduced Amfortas, which allowed Klingsor to steal his sacred spear and wound him with it, but it's also Kundry who rides her mare almost to death to find herbs to ease Amfortas's suffering. Meier was strange and wild in the first scene, like a spooked animal, but in the second act, she was a fascinating yet vulnerable temptress. It's hard not to feel annoyed by the characterization (evil woman needs pure man to save her soul, blah blah blah), but in Meier's hands, Kundry became a true hero who wanted redemption and forgiveness (yeah, that's in the libretto, but Kundry seems too much like a villain in some productions). She looked like a figure in a Pre-Raphaelite painting, with her long, wavy red hair, and it was easy to see how men would be seduced by her. Her performance ranks up with Andreas Scholl's in the operas I saw at the Met.

Anyway, I don't hate Parsifal. It's not an opera I'd like to see every season, but it's not horrible and evil like I previously thought. Robert Wilson, however, is horrible and evil. Let's beat him with sticks!

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