Korean opera fans will be able to immerse themselves in the world of Richard Wagner on Oct. 1, 3 and 5 when the German composer’s four-and-a-half-hour opera “Parsifal” will be staged at Seoul Arts Center Opera Theater.
“Parsifal” is regarded as the end of the dry spell for Wagnerian operas here, which have been absent from the stage since the 1970s. Since Wagner’s creations have been considered long, difficult and abstract by the majority of music fans, only arias or excerpts have been presented from time to time.
Behind the return of Wagner operas ― the Korean National Opera is planning to stage his “Ring Cycle” starting next year ― is bass singer Youn Kwang-chul, one of the best Wagnerian singers in the world since appearing at the Bayreuth Fest as a night watcher of “Die Meistersinger von Nurenberg” in 1996.
The six-minute scene-stealing performance has made him one the most in-demand bass singers in interpreting Wagner. It helped him secure the role of Gurnemanz, a veteran Knight of the Grail in “Parsifal,” since 2008 at the one of Germany’s most popular musical festivals. With the signature role, Youn has been touring around the world, featuring different aspects of the old and wise man every year.
|Bass singer Youn Kwang-chul (left) and tenor Christopher Ventris will be performing as Gurnemanz and Parsifal, respectively, in Wagner’s final opera “Parsifal” staged on Oct. 1, 3 and 5 at Seoul Arts Center. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald, Korea National Opera)|
Joined by the world-class “Parsifal” specialists such as internationally acclaimed conductor Lothar Zagrosek, director Philippe Arluad as well as costume’s Lenka Radecky and music coach Robin Engelen, Youn is fully set to portray Gurnemanz, who supports young and innocent Parsifal become the savior and redeemer of the Knights of the Holy Grail played by tenor Christopher Ventris.
In their interview with The Korea Herald, both Youn and Ventris admitted that “Parsifal” is never an easy task.
“Fans of Wagner, known as Wagnerians, are very sophisticated and they look into every detail of the show in different aspects. It is natural to become picky and well refined,” Youn said. “In the Western hemisphere, the piece has been played numerous times and therefore has been revised or reinterpreted to add unique flavors.
“But here, we are going with a classic ending and the most conservative interpretation, in order to show the quintessential Wagner,” he added.
And Youn will be showing off his specialty ― the “right” diction, which made even the finickiest critics give him their two thumbs up. What first started as his struggle to survive as a “short Asian singer playing iconic German characters” has evolved into what made him the one and only bass singer in the local scene.
“I try to understand all the background stories of the character. For example I would study everything about the Holy Grail and the customs of the relevant era which could give me the mindset of the Gurnemanz. In the end, that reinforces me to sing in a clear manner and communicate with the audience at the highest level,” he said. “It is a great pleasure for me to work with a singer with good diction, too, because it helps me focus on the role for hours. It is also nice to work with relatively young and fresh Gurnemanz,” Ventris said.
To Ventris, a veteran Parsifal, delivering the inner voice of the protagonist has always been a challenge. “Parsifal is a bright and quite witty young man who quickly realizes what he is responsible for doing. There are setbacks such as the temptation of Kundry that come as great difficulties. He improves as a person and we can see how a man with possibility becomes an intelligent person in the end,” he said.
“There have been questions and accusations about the religious meaning of the piece ― tales of the Holy Grail and Christian rituals are the basis of the opera piece. But at the same time we have removed the religious element, which made the overall sentiment more universal,” he said.
By Bae Ji-sook (firstname.lastname@example.org