Callas in Parsifal II

Yesterday we heard “canonical” Callas, in Bellini; today we turn to “marginal” Callas. (Does such a thing exist?)

Maria Callas sang the rôle of Kundry in Wagner’s Parsifal only five times, in 1949 and 1950. One chronicler says that she was to have sung it at La Scala in 1956 instead of Giordano’s Fedora.

Kundry seems to me a rôle that Callas could have sung comfortably into the 1960s, one that might have been a plausible comeback vehicle even as late as the 1970s (when she had reportedly signed on to sing Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther at the Opéra de Paris). One sticking point, I suspect, is that the opera is called Parisifal, not Kundry, though Parisfal is a cipher and Kundry is the character who draws us—well, draws me—to this opera. Another is that, by the 1960s and 1970s, the tradition of singing opera in the audience’s lingua franca and not in the work’s “original” language had been lost.

In The Newly Born Woman by Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, we read of Kundry:
We learn that she has been damned ever since, in a mythical time, she laughed at Christ’s passage—accursed laughter that she will carry within her until the end of time. She is the feminine counterpart of the Wandering Jew, assigned by Klingsor to the young Parsifal in order to seduce him. She thinks she will succeed in this by speaking the name of his mother, but the other’s chastity prevents their coming together and permits him to “save” Kundry at the moment of the spell of Good Friday… She is the madwoman who names, who names the mother; she is also the laugh that disperses, that is the symbol of sexuality whose act is what is forbidden in this opera. It is also she who wounded Amfortas; her laugh keeps a wide gash bleeding…
Have you ever heard a sexier-sounding Kundry?

Hear Maria Callas (and Giacinto Prandelli) in other music by Wagner.

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