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  • Writer's pictureNora Sourouzian

German Legato in Kundry through Consonants.


My tool for the German language: Nico Castel's IPA guide for Parsifal.
Nico Castel IPA

Music holds the incredible power to convey emotions that transcend language barriers. Yet, as I recently discovered, the choice of language can significantly impact the emotional resonance of an opera. Always eager to learn from the great singers of the past, my curiosity was piqued upon realizing that this year marks the 100th anniversary of Maria Callas's birth. I wondered if the legendary artist had ever taken on the challenging role of Kundry.


To my unsurprise, I found that Callas, known for her fearless performances, did indeed sing Kundry in Italian. However, despite her beautiful Italian legato and, foremost, her emotional expression, something about it didn't quite resonate with me.


It wasn't until I revisited the German original version performed by artists like Waltraud Meier or Christa Ludwig that I grasped what was missing. Listening to Kundry's native German, instead of the Italian version, brought a new layer of understanding, especially in appreciating the nuances of consonances in the German language. Meier's German consonants added a fresh fluidity and delicacy to her vocal line, especially in " ich sah das kind an siner Mutter Brust" subtly shaping the melodic line in different ways. More importantly, it allowed for richer emotional expressions that vividly portrayed Kundry's inner motivations.


Wagner, who meticulously crafted both the libretto and music of Parsifal, seamlessly integrated language and melody to reveal hidden layers of Kundry's seductive game. It was like finding details in a painting that I had never noticed before.


Castel's IPA book has been invaluable for gaining a comprehensive understanding of German phonetics. Though, my true aim as an artist is to reach beyond technical precision into soulful expression.


My German language coach shared a crucial technique for embracing German pronunciation and singing: achieving vocal legato involves skillful air support, akin to the Italian emphasis on vowel articulation. In German, the distinction is subtle, as one utilizes the flow of air through consonants to create a seamless legato, marking a nuanced difference in approach. I now find joy in embracing the consonants in German and do the legato for Kundry!


This experience deepened my appreciation for how language itself serves as an instrument in Wagner's scores.


 







 

Nein, Parsifal, du thör’ger Reiner!

Fern, fern – ist meine Heimat.

Dass du mich fändest, verweilte ich nur hier;

von weither kam ich wo ich viel ersah.


Ich sah das Kind an seiner Mutter Brust,

sein erstes Lallen lacht mir noch im Ohr;

das Leid im Herzen

wie lachte da auch Herzeleide,

als ihren Schmerzen

zujauchzte ihrer Augen Weide!

Gebettet sanft auf weichen Moosen,

den hold geschläfert sie mit Kosen,

dem, bang in Sorgen,

den Schlummer bewacht der Mutter Sehnen,

den weckt‘ am Morgen

der heisse Tau der Muttertränen.

Nur Weinen war sie, Schmerzgebahren

um deines Vaters Lieb und Todt:

vor gleicher Noth dich zu bewahren,

galt ihr als höchster Pflicht Gebot.

Den Waffen fern, der Männer Kampf und Wüthen,

wollte sie still dich bergen und behüten.

Nur Sorgen war sie, ach! und Bangen:

nie sollte Kunde zu dir her gelangen.

Hörst du nicht noch ihrer Klagen Ruf,

wann spät und fern du geweilt?

Hei! was ihr das Lust und Lachen schuf,

wann sie suchend dann dich ereilt;

wann dann ihr Arm dich wüthend umschlang,

ward dir es wohl gar beim Küssen bang?

Doch, ihr Wehe du nicht vernahmst,

nicht ihrer Schmerzen Toben,

als endlich du nicht wiederkamst,

und deine Spur verstoben.

Sie harrte Nächt‘ und Tage, –

bis ihr verstummt die Klage,

der Gram ihr zehrte den Schmerz,

um stillen Tod sie warb:

ihr brach das Leid das Herz,

und – Herzeleide – starb.


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