... before seeing tonight's performance.
More remarkable even than the tenor lead is, I think, Peter Mattei. Amfortas has not been neglected by the Met: it was just 2006 when Thomas Hampson stole the show in this same part opposite Heppner, Meier, and Pape. But Hampson, like most of his predecessors, used the grit in his voice -- and, for Hampson, the contrast of that with his younger unblemished sound -- to convey the full scope of the wounded leader's torment. Mattei remains commandingly mellifluous throughout, and it's testament to his intensity of phrase and physical acting that Amfortas and his struggle are nevertheless so vivid.
Rene Pape is on a similar level: gone are the days when he seemed stretched too thin over a part that was just too long for him. With the maturation of his voice, Pape is now just as strong over the course of a long sing like Gurnemanz as he is in the one/two-showoff-aria parts with which he exploded onto the scene in the 90s. Unfortunately on opening night some coordination difficulties with the pit got in the way of his Act I work... we'll see how it comes out tonight.
And in fact Daniele Gatti's conducting has been the performance element that has not drawn near-universal praise. But as much as I like to complain that a Wagner show would have been better with Levine in the pit, Gatti's idiosyncratic approach is really interesting in this. His aesthetic aim seems to be to allow every development to unfold as if spontaneously improvised, and though this involves drawing some of the passages out more than is common and may cause coordination issues of the sort we saw opening night, the cumulative effect over the course of, e.g., Act III is pretty uncanny. And if Gatti's way may trip up singers in monologues, it nudges singers in the really, really long-form dialogues of Act II to their own sort of spontaneity, putting focus on the unfolding dramatic crux rather than the set-piece structural form.
Katarina Dalayman, a dramatic soprano in manner as well as sound, took huge advantage of this emphasis at the opener. As well and as strongly as Jonas Kaufmann sang in that second Act, that was basically him (or, as the director successfully drew forth, the divine emptiness within him) responding to and keeping up with Dalayman/Kundry's surges of vocal and (im)moral force.