The series of Wagner operas marking the composer’s bicentenary has been the defining feature of this year’s BBC Proms. The last of the seven was Parsifal, appropriately Wagner’s final opera, and the Hallé Orchestra and Mark Elder, who have done notable service for Wagner in recent years, came down from Manchester for the event.
Alone of his operas, Parsifal was composed specifically with Wagner’s own theatre at Bayreuth in mind. But if he had been thinking of performances outside Germany, the Royal Albert Hall could hardly be less well suited: the domed concert hall might have been built to house the grail scenes of Parsifal and the choruses sung from the gallery create a magical effect. The various choirs here – the Royal Opera Chorus, Trinity Boys Choir and Hallé Youth Choir – sounded glorious, wrapped in the hall’s acoustic halo.
Altogether, there were so many admirable features that it is a shame this performance as a whole only fitfully took wing. Elder has trained the Hallé to cultivate a distinguished Wagner sound (how lovely the blendings of wind solos were early on) and his care to make sure the singers could always be heard was a big point in his favour. It did not matter that the speeds were sometimes very slow (though they were), but there was a certain deadness throughout, an emotional reticence that shied away from giving voice to the opera’s passions.
It did come alive at times, though – especially when Katarina Dalayman’s exciting Kundry held the stage. Few manage to encompass this character’s sensuality and her wild extremes as comprehensively as Dalayman’s first-class singing did. Nor was a word of Gurnemanz’s long role wasted by senior Wagnerian John Tomlinson, no passive teller of stories, but a positive, engaged player in events, wonderfully truculent and full of life. Lars Cleveman was a rather perfunctory Parsifal, though he sang cleanly enough, and Detlef Roth made an effective Amfortas, whose clear singing of the German text was an important virtue. Tom Fox was the strong, solid Klingsor, Reinhard Hagen an imposing Titurel. As the closing chorus echoed down from the dome, nobody could claim that the Proms had failed to do justice to Wagner in this anniversary year.