From the very first words of Lyric Opera of Chicago's Parsifal to the final curtain, director Nikolaus Lehnhoff was determined to veer as far as possible from--and beyond--Wagner's stated intentions. As we heard the gently humorous words of Gurnemanz awakening the young Esquires, for example, we saw him fiercely pummelling them about. At the close, Amfortas was not healed by the Holy Spear but instead died. Conversely, Kundry did not receive death as release from her accursed eternal life but went off with Parsifal. All this was presented against Raimund Bauer's incredibly hideous, Nazi-bunker-style sets, with the equally hideous, if not laughable, costumes of Andrea Schmidt-Futterer.

On the musical side, Sir Andrew Davis's orchestra played beautifully. Vocally, matters were touch and go. Gosta Winbergh, announced as indisposed before the second performance, discharged his duties for one act, to be replaced very competently by Michael Hendrick. (After resuming and completing his Chicago performances as Parsifal, Winbergh tragically died in Vienna on March 18.) Kundry was Catherine Malfitano's first Wagner role. Much of Kundry lies low, which found her very tremulous, though her high notes were surprisingly close to the mark. Mark Delavan's Amfortas is, at the moment, more effective in his anguished moments than in the more lyric ones, but this fine baritone is extremely promising. Egils Silins (Klingsor) has a good bass, but the young singer conveyed little of his character's malevolence. The one rock-solid performance was the Gurnemanz of Matti Salminen. The male chorus sang gloriously, as did the Flower Maiden soloists and ladies of the chorus.

Lyric's Die Zauberflote remains one of its best-ever productions (staging after the late August Everding; wonderfully crazy sets by Joerg Zimmerman). Again, Davis's conducting was an asset Amid the large cast; Dorothea Roeschmann (Pamina) was unquestionably the star, with everything in her favor: glorious voice, delightful acting, charming appearance. Paul Groves'tenor was appealing as Tamino. The top notes of Mary Dunleavy's Queen of the Night occasionally went awry, but hers was still an admirable performance. The stalwart Matti Salminen showed no evidence that his Sarastro and Gurnemanz performances were back to back. As usual, David Cangelosi (Monostatos) was thoroughly amusing and never overdone, despite his ludicrous get-up. Granted that Papageno is a sure-fire, can't-miss part, Canadian baritone Gerald Finley was truly funny, even in the tedious shtick that has beset his role down through the ages. He also sang most beautifully.

One of the season's mild surprises came from former artistic director Bruno Bartoletti, returning to guest conduct a La Boheme that had a double set of principals. His first performance was lively, with Roberto Aronica (Rodolfo) and Leontina Vaduva (Mimi) both competent. Alas, he was back on his old form in the second series, with such variances of tempi that Frank Lopardo, whose singing was otherwise in lovely shape, didn't even attempt the high note in his first-act aria. As often with Patricia Racette (the second Mimi), everything seemed to be in place but ended up being merely serviceable. However, the brightly voiced Musetta of Noemi Nadelmann was outstanding.

Richard CovelloOpera Canada