Hey, everybody! Antoni, here, with another recommended reading post. Today, I will be talking about the article ROH Interview: Petra Lang on singing Kundry in the ROH’s Parsifal with Bernard Haitink, which was written by Dominic McHugh and published in MusicalCriticism.com on November 22, 2007.
Fun fact. When I was a seventeen-year-old junior high school student, I had the pleasure of reading this particular article as a basis for my English research paper about Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, especially when talking about Ortrud. One has to leave it up to singers like Astrid Varnay and Petra Lang who not only sang this role magnificently in their own ways but also understood the character and the overall historical context. On the surface, Ortrud comes off as a wicked witch. However, when one gets to know her, the environment she is in, and the era the opera took place, which is in Antwerp in the 10th century or the Middle Ages, she is an intelligent, strong, fiercely independent, and determined woman, who has been badly scorned by society, as women were more underprivileged in comparison to the men. Essentially, Ortrud uses her craft, cunning, and smarts for her own goals to bring back a pagan Brabant and get back at those who dared to scorn, profane, and underestimate her and her lineage. Hence, that is also why I love Ortrud so much as a character, as she is multifaceted and rightfully frustrated with the situation she was in, thus taking action using her own hands and means, in spite of the fact that she is married to Count Friedrich von Telramund. Overall, the experience I had in making my research paper was a major journey from looking at the annals to reading books about opera to gathering all of my sources was kind of tough but it was so enjoyable and rewarding, as after all of that I ended up having a 95% on this project. Sure, I would have turned it in earlier thus getting a higher grade but I digress. I put in a lot of work, heart, and effort on that project, and I was happy, to say the least.
Speaking of the main interviewee at hand, is there anything else I need to say about why I am utterly fascinated with Frau Petra Lang in terms of her insurmountable prowess as a singing actress? It’s very much the reason why I see her as a feistier, more outgoing, and fierier younger sister from another mother to Waltraud Meier. Both of them are extremely famous for singing roles in both the dramatic mezzo and dramatic soprano repertoires, chiefly in the German operas especially Wagner, like Fricka, Waltraute, Brangäne, Kundry, Ortrud, Amneris, Eboli, Isolde, Sieglinde, Marie from Wozzeck, Octavian, the Composer from Ariadne auf Naxos, and Venus. Even more so, both of them had their beginnings as lyric mezzos before ascending to the dramatic parts. However, unlike Frau Meier who sang Isolde and some dramatic soprano parts from 1993 to 2015, Frau Lang started to go to the dramatic soprano route in 2012. After singing Brünnhilde’s arias in concert for quite some time especially the Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung, she ascended the role of this iconic heroine from Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung as well as taking on Isolde in 2016. While Waltraud Meier’s voice is more metallic in emission during her prime, Petra Lang’s vocal emission is more electric, wiry, and flexible whilst maintaining its steely quality. Her higher range pierces the heavens like a thousand daggers when she hits her Bs and Cs. Coupling her exciting voice is her exceptional and involving skills as an actress, thus throwing herself into each and every role she does. With that said, let’s get on to the article and what I enjoy about it.
I find it so astounding that Petra Lang was a big Wagner fan when she was a child from listening to a Flying Dutchman recording to listening to old-school singers like Julius Patzak. Even more so, her initial fascination with Parsifal was a tell-tale sign that she was not only going to sing the Voice from Above and a Flowemaiden of Klingsor but eventually Kundry, a role she took a look at in 1996 during René Kollo’s thirtieth anniversary of his stage debut.
It is crystal clear that Madame Lang has been thoroughly invested with this iconic character akin to the Wandering Jew. One line that really got to me in the most positive way was, “I think Kundry as a role is about incarnation”, because of how she was able to comprehend Kundry’s roller-coaster of a journey from laughing at Christ on the cross, thus being doomed to wander the earth for all eternity, to her initial appearance as a savage, feral woman in the first act to a seductress under Klingsor’s control in the second act to a complete zombie in the third and final act. She also mentions Kundry’s relationship with not only Klingsor but also Amfortas and Parsifal and makes smart and well-done comparisons and observations of these characters. Even more so, Petra Lang was even coached by Astrid Varnay in the Wagnerian roles, not just Kundry but also Sieglinde, Adriano, Venus, and Ortrud.
Speaking of Ortrud, this particular segment of the article was my biggest highlight, not only on an academic level in my experience but because of how someone as savvy as Petra Lang was able to make Ortrud into an even more multi-dimensional and relatable character. I also have to leave it up to her brand of humor to make me, the reader, actually root for Ortrud and everything she stands for and not just feel like I was reading overly pedantic. Even more so, just by listening and watching her performances as Ortrud, I can certainly tell that the great Astrid Varnay coached her superbly in terms of characterization and singing. The way singers like her see Ortrud is that she is a capable, political, and independent woman as opposed Elsa’s simplicity, naiveté, and overall youthfulness, for lack of a better word. It is also no wonder why Elsa acts so reactively to Ortrud’s and Telramund’s insinuations, as Elsa is very much meant to exist to please a man and act genteel around the nobility, the royalty, the clergy, and the serfs.
Ortrud is essentially skilled in knowing about medicine, how and when to harvest, and using the moon and other elements to her advantage. Plus, she is not a murderess, she just cast a spell on Gottfried, Elsa’s younger brother, and turned him into a swan. With all of these actions, it is kind of no wonder Ortrud is the way she is. It was the Middle Ages, and she was a part of the minority, thus feeling like she is an outcast to society because she is not only a woman but also a pagan who worships gods like Odin and Freia. Her only resolve is to fight back and persevere until those final moments in the third act where she goes bonkers. When it comes to men, she certainly knows how to manipulate them, especially her own husband Telramund, and she will not bow down to any man. Overall, I wholeheartedly agree with Petra Lang. Ortrud is a truly fascinating character I continue to admire and look up to as a role model.
Aside from her passions as a singer and an overall performer, Petra Lang has expressed her passion ensuring singers are in tip-top physical, psychological, and spiritual health. She strives for a method for singers, especially the young ones, to stay in peak performance and great shape and has also expressed her passion for teaching in order for young singers to find their way in their blossoming careers.
As I read the entire article, I had the impression that Madame Petra Lang was an absolutely down-to-earth, humorous, intelligent, well-versed, and, simply put, awesome person. Not only is she very dedicated to her craft but also the type of person I keep aspiring to be.
Overall, can I make it any clearer why I firmly convict that this article is a must-read? I was able to learn a lot about two of my most favorite Wagner opera characters Kundry and Ortrud and I was able to enjoy how Petra Lang presented herself as a humorous, intelligent, and down-to-earth woman. With that said, I give this article a rating of 5 healing spells cast by both Kundry and Ortrud out of 5. If you are a fan of Wagner, especially Parsifal and Lohengrin, and of Petra Lang and her work as a singing actress, I highly implore you all to read this. It is an eye-opener. It is genuine in its execution, and you will have a blast knowing and understanding all of what Petra Lang has to offer to the table.
Well, that’s all for now. Be sure to tune in later for a Powerpuff Girls fanfic recommendation starring Boomer and Blossom entitled No Matter What They Say written by dark lil’angel2be, which was inspired by the fan-animated music video of Evanescence’s My Immortal also starring Boomer and Blossom made by StarRainerGirl. Until then, have a great Spring everybody!
ROH Interviews: Petra Lang on Singing Kundry in the ROH’s Parsifal with Bernard Haitink by Dominic McHugh