The Metropolitan Opera still has a few more performances to go before it puts Joseph Volpe's final season to bed with a big, sloppy kiss, but this evening's Parsifal was most likely the last time I'll set foot in the house until Anthony Minghella's fancy puppet show hits the stage in September. And I'm happy to say that my Met season ended on a high note.
Ever since the Lohengrin broadcast, everyone wants to know whether Ben Heppner got through his latest performance okay. Apparently he did on opening night last Saturday, and I'd say that was true for the most part tonight, as well. Did he crack a note or two? Well, he dented a couple, but it's not the kind of thing that especially detracted from a stellar performance. Heppner's bound to be suffering from serious nerves lately, but he did just fine tonight.
Everything else I'm going to say simply echoes what you've already read elsewhere. René Pape's Gurnemanz was unusually lyrical; this role made for a long, long wallow in his gorgeous sound, and that's always something to celebrate. (His crochety physical mannerisms in the last act were overplayed, but so what?) Thomas Hampson made gorgeously pained sounds -- and a few deliberately painful ones -- as an achingly sad, overwhelmingly pitiable Amfortas. Nikolai Putilin sounded rightly ugly as Klingsor. Secondary parts and choruses were all beautifully sung. Peter Schneider conducted the orchestra more than serviceably; he defined less overall shape than Levine (or Christoph Eschenbach, for that matter), but he kept things moving, and expertly balanced Wagner's otherworldly orchestration.
And then there was Waltraud Meier, whose Kundry was simply one of the most jaw-droppingly stunning characterizations I've witnessed on an operatic stage. Her voice was solid and brilliant all night long: gorgeous most of the time, ugly in the few moments she meant it to be. Still more impressive was the sheer depth Meier brought to her conception. It's no surprise that she ruled the second act, where she had the most to sing and do. Her previously sad-sack Kundry was utterly transformed into a lascivious goddess in the seduction scene, yet when her attempt fails, the character essentially unravels right in front of your eyes, in harrowing detail. (Her delivery of the line in which "His" glance fell upon her was utterly chilling.) And even in the first and third acts, when she has less to sing, Meier still commanded the stage with the sheer electricity of her presence. There's not a single moment during this five-and-a-half hour stretch in which Meier's not "on," so to speak, and not since Joyce DiDonato's harrowing portrayal of Dejanira in Handel's Hercules at BAM have I been so shaken up by a dramatic performance on an operatic stage.
The Met's 1991 production, by the reliable Schenk/Schneider-Siemssen tandem, remains a marvel of stagecraft, but I hope that the new regime will consider another approach next time around. Like Lohengrin, Parsifal is short on action and long on exposition; an abstract setting serves the piece just as well, if not better. It's been roughly 15 years since I saw the Robert Wilson production at Houston Grand Opera; I certainly wouldn't mind seeing it again -- ideally conducted by Eschenbach and occupied by a cast of this caliber. Or one directed by Robert LePage, or Luc Bondy, or...