Opera: The cup runneth dry

PARSIFAL ROYAL ALBERT HALL LONDON

IT WAS a little like being in church. A subdued, post-Proms Albert Hall, the faithful gathering with their battered vocal scores and Bayreuth banter to hear what Russia's premiere opera company - the Kirov - might make of the Holy Grail of Western music: Parsifal. Even the title evokes a kind of hush (say it soft and it's almost like praying). There was once a great tradition of Wagner in Russia. Once. There will be so again, if Valery Gergiev has his way. And he will. But Gergiev is not much interested in tradition that doesn't shape the future, and in that he has a lot in common with Wagner, the great operatic reformer.

But we were in church, remember, not in the theatre, and right from the outset, as the motif of the sacrament, gently supported by a heavenly host of hovering arpeggios, wafted its way in to Albert Hall dome, it was plain that the intimacy of Wagner's drama would very likely go that way too, subsumed into the ceremonial wash of hall and acoustic. How would the text fare? Production photographs in the Kirov programme book suggested "Son of Boris" and there were times when the German became strange enough to have you anticipating a coronation scene.

But that in itself might not have been so much of a problem had Gergiev not exacerbated the hall's acoustical treachery and physical size by placing his principals way behind the orchestra and on opposite sides of the platform, so that Gurnemanz and his squires, to say nothing of Parsifal and his Flower Maidens, were almost a bus ride away from each other. Even a fine voice like that of Gennady Bezzubenkov (Gurnemanz) dissipated into a kind of benevolent warble, the words of his lengthy narrations woolly enough to make their sense, let alone their storytelling, hard to follow.

The bigger voices of Larissa Gogolevskaya's Kundry and Vladimir Vaneev's towering Klingsor fared better, but this was essentially the "Parsifal Symphony" with obbligato voices. Gergiev's focus rarely shifted from his score and his orchestra to the singers' hinterland beyond. Even as his Parsifal (Victor Lutsiuk) came apart during the evening, concern and/or encouragement was not discernable from the podium.

Lutsiuk had sounded fresh and promising in Act 1, but drop-outs in the middle of the voice (an inability to sustain even the simplest phrase) are the symptom of poor support. He needs attention. And so does Fyodor Mozhaev (Amfortas). He was spent by Act 3. What does this tell us about the Kirov's workload?

Yet the "Parsifal Symphony" was impressive. Gergiev has an instinctive feeling for the pulse of every score put before him. He and his wonderful orchestra are magicians, masters of every style. This Parsifal took as long as it took. But it was rich in orchestral atmosphere. The dark-hued intensity of the string playing - never more thrilling than with the return of Parsifal in Act 3; or at the burgeoning of the new dawn for mankind later in that scene (heavenly oboe playing, too). These were transporting moments. And when the Albert Hall was a temple, the effect of far-flung voices and brass was everything and more that that other magician, Richard Wagner, will have imagined.

Yet Parsifal is neither symphony nor ceremony but music drama, and until Gergiev and his company have really digested it, performances like this one will leave you wondering why, having consumed the banquet, you still feel so empty.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on