DER NEUE MERKER – Sofia Opera: PARSIFAL – First performance in Bulgaria / detailed abstract

Sunday, 09 July 2017

Meanwhile the National Opera Sofia has made itself an international name with its worth seeing important works by Richard Wagner, always as Bulgarian first performances. At that great value was and is placed on a substantial observation of Wagner’s statement on the work and his stage directions. The West European director’s theatre was here clearly rejected. The tireless motor behind this pioneer movement is the Director Prof. Plamen Kartaloff, who has directed so far one very heeded “Ring des Nibelungen”, which has already guest-performed in the festival hall Füssen and in May next year will be to see at Bolschoi Theater Moscow. In the past year, Kartaloff came out with one also magnificent new production of “Tristan und Isolde”. So that it was hardly surprising, that as next work by the Bayreuth master appeared “Parsifal” – to some extent as a matter of heart – the more so as Richard Trimborn, music coach of the Bulgarian singers by the rehearsal of all these music dramas, also preferred “Parsifal” for the Sofia stage. These two men seem to harmonize with each other humanly and artistically fort the best, sure enough one element of the continuing already several years success. So it came in the beginning of July to the Bulgarian first performance of “Parsifal”, anyway 135 years after the premiere.

By the conception of this “Parsifal” for Kartaloff it is before all about the communication of emotional contents, whereby the categories brotherhood, humanity and love of neighbour come in connection with divine radiation and spiritual cure. The spiritual mystery of the “Parsifal” legend, as well as the philosophical messages of the characters and their striving for a “final nirvana” should stay in the centre. To show this requires a high grad of abstraction and a fine elaborated direction of the characters, which both are to experience expressively still in Act I and through the entire piece.

After one overture, played solemnly and with mystical aplomb one looks into the holy wood made of artfully interwoven with each other cloth bands, which by the transformation to the castle of the Grail imperceptibly turned into columns. That in doing so time turned into space, suggested the walking of Gurnemanz with Parsifal in this fast imperceptibly transforming itself scenery. In a retrospective we see on the revolving stage how Klingsor steals the spear from Amfortas. Amfortas shows in on an invalid chair in white garment with the blood trail of the wound – one can catch sight of him later in the stage background when he takes a bath in the lake. Gurnemanz and the knights appear in the tastefully fashioned by Stanka Vauda white costumes with the typical cowls of a monk and with that they make an effective contrast to the rather dark scenery by Numen+Ivanka Jonke. The light design by Andrej Hajdinjak is always tuned with the full of atmosphere scenes. The wounded swan is a feathered ballet dancer, who this way imparts a stronger personality to the animal and requires from Parsifal more intense feelings of guilt. Very fanciful and with big symbolic power acts the raising of the Grail in Act I: while Amfortas – and Titurel stands in doing so in front of him – raises his hands, the Grail forms itself from the interweaving of several ropes hanging from the ceiling of the stage, which let us guess the vessel in its structure – just one example for the abstraction grade, with which the director works here. One interesting accent Kartaloff puts at the end of Act I: instead of being expelled as “drake” by Gurnemanz, the last one leaves immediately and Parsifal remains alone on the stage. After the experience, one recognizes at his inspired facial expression, that he has understood his task to redeem Amfortas and therefore he sets out “knowing” to the odyssey…

In Act II Klingsor acts subversively on a platform in the rear part of the stage, on which is installed a rack, which produces laser beams – probably an expression of his vain attempts to find a solution for his irresolvable problematic. The magic garden unfolds itself thereafter in the real sense of the word in the form of a huge red air cushion, in which the six flower maidens from group 1 and 2 – the rest of the women’s chorus sings from the back stage – and later Kundry court around Parsifal. Again and again, this air cushion acts like a big red mouth, in any case an obvious association with the kiss happening on it. In the background threatens constantly Klingsor‘s sphere of impact, from here he throws also the spear on Parsifal, which doesn’t quite succeed.

In Act III we see again the holly wood, now illuminated a little bit more richly in contrast, and the following transformation to the columns of the temple of the Grail in the last scene. After that Parsifal redeems Amfortas from his wound, he raises in the heights the spear in the middle of the stage under the Grail, forming itself from the ropes, which by the laser effects now illuminate much more brightly as in Act I – the unification of the Grail and the spear becomes in this way optically impactful documented. The Grail knights lie in circle around Parsifal and so they suggest the renewal of the Order of the Grail. Kundry sings in the front lifeless on the ground – everything just the same as Wagner wanted it, as it however would be unimaginable in Wagners’s director’s theatre of today… In return, the director’s team manages with relatively limited means, which however are applied very effectively in their optical association, to reach a high grade of expression of the piece, which allows it to be understandable also for the Bulgarian audience, which predominantly hasn’t experienced it yet. Accordingly was also the strong applause at the end.

With the young conductor Constantin Trinks succeeded what Plamen Kartaloff has set as maxim for the synergy of music and action namely by this work by Wagner – the visualization of music. The orchestra of the Sofia Opera and Ballet allows itself to be heard from its best side, with fine intonation by the mostly solemn tempos, without falling into inappropriate pathos. One noticed in each phrase, that during the passed years it has developed a big understanding and feeling for Wagner’s music. Only the glass bells could be intonated better. The Chorus of the Sofia Opera, directed by Violeta Dimitrova, was choreographed in the best way and sang powerfully at good transparency. Venetsia Karamanova conducted the Children’s Choir of the Bulgarian National Radio.

During all these years Plamen Kartaloff has grown a remarkable cast of good Wagner singers, with the help of Richard Trimborn and through intense rehearsals. This cast allows him now to cast the main parts even double! All singers made this premiere evening their respective debuts in these roles and this already with absolutely considerable result: Kostadin Andreev gave one very baritone shaded but with powerful tenor aplomb provided Parsifal, who like already by his Siegfried in the “Ring” acts very vigorously. He certainly has to continue working on his German in order to be understood better also while singing. The still very young Atanas Mladenov sang one lyrically emphasized Amfortas with great clarity of the words. He was Gunther in the “Ring”. Angel Hristov, who was Hagen and Hunding in the “Ring”, shaped Gurnemanz with his sustainable, for this part not so big bass, with great clarity of the words almost contemplative. Biser Georgiev gave one powerful Klingsor with one slightly too guttural and not always understandable bass baritone, which he however managed to master well with his intense performance. The Sofia Isolde Radostina Nikolaeva sang one good Kundry, even if the splendid high tones of her soprano were more convincing than her depths, which are also required by Kundry. Artistically she made her best. Petar Buchkov was one appealing Titurel. In the widely well casted subsidiary roles sang Hrisimir Damyanov and Stefan Vladimirov as First and Second Grail Knight. Rada Toreva, Ina Petrova, Krasimir Dinev and Kalin Dushkov embodied the Esquires. Vocally and optically stimulating acted the Flower maidens from group 1 and 2, Lyubov Metodieva, Mariela Alexandova, Ina Petrova, Mirela Yabandzhieva, Angelina Mancheva and Alexandrina Stoyanova-Andreeva

With this production of “Parsifal” the National Opera Sofia continued impressively its so successful way to Richard Wagner. The production would be an honour for some big theatres in West Europe.
For now last performance on 10 July 2017.

Klaus Billand

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