Last Saturday I had the amazing experience of enjoying the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Parsifal live in HD at the UPAC in Kingston. The production was not a traditional one but was set in the present–or, perhaps, a future–time. It certainly had a postapocalyptic feel to it. And it worked. The point: This is a timeless story, not something that could only have taken place in a mythical Middle Ages.
The cast was the best that could have been assembled for a Wagner opera in this day and age: it included Jonas Kaufmann (Parsifal), Katarina Dalayman (the sorceress Kundry), Peter Mattei (the wounded Grail Knight Amfortas), and Evgeny Nikitin (the evil magician Klingsor), led by the masterful conducting of Daniele Gatti, but for me the most memorable performance came from the great Wagnerian bass Rene Pape as an unusually youthful, deeply sensitive Gurnemanz.
Although I’ve been a professional opera critic in a precvious life, my purpose in this blog post is not to comment in detail on the performance but, rather, to highlight the venue–the UPAC in Kingston. For me, at least, this historic theater was an undiscovered treasure, since until I went looking for a place to see Parsifal I had never heard of it. Thus as a Wagner lover and a historian, it was a double treat to attend the performance here. Originally known as the Broadway Theater (it’s on Broadway in Kingston, a few minutes from I-587), this combination movie palace and vaudeville house first opened its doors in 1927. Twenty years later it was purchased by the Walter Reade Organization and became a first-run movie theater. In 1953 the theater got not only a major facelift but also a new name, the Community Theater.
In the 1970s Kingston began suffering from an all-too-common malady as businesses and entertainment venues forsook town centers for suburban mall areas, and by 1977 the theater was slated for demolition–until a group of concerned citizens got together, purchased it, and reopened it as the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC). In 1979 the theater went on the National Register of Historic Places, one of the last great show palaces in New York State. The UPAC is now merged into the corporate structure of the Bardavon, another historic theater across the river in Poughkeepsie, both of them premier performing arts venues in the Hudson Valley.
The variety of offerings at the UPAC is quite amazing, as you can see from the photo here. If you visit their website, you can learn about their performance schedule and also become a Friend, which entitles you to various “perks” depending on the level at which you join. The membership covers being a Friend both of the UPAC and the Bardavon, so you get two for the price of one.
It just goes to show that people living in the Hudson Valley don’t have to schlepp into New York City for top-notch performances. While operagoers watching HD live aren’t seeing the performances in person, the huge screen ensures that they have a better view than they would at the Met, plus–and this is a major bonus as far as I’m concerned–they get to see the live intermission interviews with the artists, something the Met audience misses out on.