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Kundry’s seduction of Parsifal

Kundry's Parsival_crop

Kundry’s seduction of Parsifal, the extraordinary love scene at the heart of Wagner’s final opera Parsifal, will be performed at Castlemaine Art Gallery on Saturday February 14 at 7.30 pm, Valentine’s Day.

In a concert staging, US-born mezzo soprano Kristen Leich sings Kundry, the beautiful woman conjured up by dark forces to seduce and corrupt the unknowing Parsifal.

Kristen made her debut with New York City Opera as Dorabella in Così fan tutte, the Mozart classic, and has sung at the leading opera houses in Dusseldorf and Geneva in Europe. She fell in love with an Aussie, married and now lives in Kyneton. “The stars have brought Kristen to central Victoria, and we are grateful,” said Michael Gillies Smith, producer of the concert.

Michael sings Parsifal, the unknowing hero, who slowly starts to understand the world and his role in it. Michael, of Chewton, comes from a paternal line of opera singers and musicians. He was an opera student at the VCA in Melbourne and Royal Academy of Music in London and has sung in operas and music theatre in Australia, Egypt and Israel, and the UK. In 2006 he featured in Chamber Made’s world premiere The Hive, which won Helpmann and Green Room awards for Best Opera and Best Direction.

Some of central Victoria’s most talented and experienced musicians have come together as the Castlemaine Chamber Ensemble for the performance. Wagner specialist David Kram, of Malmsbury, Senior Fellow at University of Melbourne, is head conductor from the piano, with talented young Bendigo conductor Josh Geddes assistant conductor. The ensemble features Sam Goble, of Castlemaine, on cello, Catherine Moore, of Bendigo, on French horn and Jenny Gogolin, of Bendigo, on flute.

About Arthurian knight Perceval’s quest for the Holy Grail, Parsifal is a western look at the soul’s journey in man on Earth and the struggle between light and dark, particularly temptations of the flesh. Arthurian legend flourished in the 1100s. Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh cleric, and French poets Robert de Boron and Chrétien de Troyes wrote extensively of it, creating art and literature. Chrétien de Troyes introduced a quest for the grail and also a lance, equal in significance to the grail. German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach’s epic poem Parzival, written in the 1200s, stems from de Troyes. 600 years on, Ludwig II of Bavaria, Wagner’s devoted patron, loved Eschenbach’s Parzival and commissioned the opera. The young king loved Wagner’s creation and staged it eight times, privately, in his court theatre.

“In my 20s, I saw Parsifal at Dresden’s Semperoper,” said Michael. “During the love scene in Act II, time stood still. I lost sense of everything around me. It was an incredible moment. Years later, I read Ann Blainey’s biography of Melba and discovered I was not alone. Melba saw Parsifal in New York in 1907. ‘The theatre ceased to exist’, she later wrote. ‘I ceased to exist. I was a disembodied spirit, floating in the realms of pure music’. When the curtain fell, ‘I leant back in my chair and sobbed’, Melba said. The music had shone a ‘light through the open door leading to eternity’.”

Tom Service in The Guardian in 2011, reviewing an ENO production of Parsifal in London, says the music has a “unique glow”. “I can’t put it better than that,” said Michael. Wagner started Parsifal in 1857 and finished it 25 years later in 1882, his final opera. It has been staged in Australia only once, in Adelaide in 2001 by the State Opera of South Australia. “It is a rare gem that is not often displayed,” said Michael.

Performance will be sung in English. It lasts about 45 minutes. ​Tickets $45 / $35 concession, special Under 21 price $25, includes an elixir of love and   nibble refreshments. Bookings: Castlemaine Art Gallery 5472 2292 or www.333arts.net.

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