Parsifal is a score built on song, obviously so in the choruses, but no less sublimely in the orchestration and solo parts where Richard Wagner reaffirmed his wish for a German bel canto. For this Australian premiere, the State Opera of South Australia has assembled a cast who can fulfil every demand. It has established a performance standard that is so coherent that one fears that the indisposition of a single squire or flowermaiden could mar the totality of its triumph.  Poul Elming as Parsifal enters as the galoot he is in the Medieval legend upon which Richard Wagner based his Sacred Festival Stage-play. Emling¹s opening notes announced him as a Heldentenor, which is rare enough, but even rarer to find those qualities in company with an acting style as agile physically as it is psychologically. He enriched the reading of his subject as his voice penetrated towards sagacity.  Margaret Medlyn displayed a full palette of mezzo colours and tonings for the repetoire of voices required for her multiple personalities as Kundry, the eternal feminine as temptress and penitent. She spellbound her audience as her attempted seduction of Parsifal moved through every emotion from the maternal to the voluptuous. Her animal cries and incantations embellished a musical intelligence that held firm throughout these reincarnations.

As the knight Gurnemanz, German bass Manfred Hemm faced the greatest demands on his voice, especially in the almost two hours of Act I, when he is the human centre as steward of a world which is disintegrating. Taxed at time, his bass proved steady, never merely four-square, stern without turning gruff, returning in force in Act III to reveal a chastened comprehension of his mission.

Jonathan Summers as the suffering king Amfortas has fewer lines but they are summoned at such an extremity that he needed all of his potent and flexible baritone to absorb the difficulties written into the part to represent his despair. He brought us and Parsifal to comprehend how much he had lost in giving way to lust.

Flesh is not the only temptation known to the fallen knight Klingsor, sung by Daniel Sumegi, yet it is appropriate that we should see him first masturbating on the Holy Spear with which he has dealt Amfortas his disabling wound. Klingsor serenades what remains of his genitals before Kundrey torments him by grasping at his crotch.  Sumegi¹s bass has the springiness and security, the darkness and the fire, to make us belief that this self-emasculated warrior is a match, vocally and dramatically, for Elming¹s Parsifal. Klingsor¹s death, as if crucified along the spear, left a wish that Wagner had given him more to sing.

A dozen brief parts, each with its moment that carries the piece forward in action, emotions or understanding, were all ideally cast, from Robert Dawe as the off-stage ex-king Titurel to Brian Gilbertson and Tass Bouyessis as the loutish squires with their tenors honed to ultra-violence.

In keeping with Wagner¹s concept of Parsifal as a religious pageant, he wrote for three male choirs ­ the knights, the youths and boys. The knights were brisk in attack, potent in their contrasting voice parts and uplifting when in unison. The younger voices, from Prince Alfred College and St Peter¹s Cathedral, were a shade too heavenly, being further off stage than was advisable.

While the blood brothers hold the fort in the first and final acts, the second act is ladies night. Susceptible critics have found the flowermaidens¹ waltz-like “Komm¹, Komm¹, holder Knabe” to be Parsifal¹s musical peak. Certainly, its execution was unsurpassed on the night, as well as the pinnacle of innocent pleasure as they did their Busby Berkley routine, killing off in the process any notion of the lumbering Wagnerian soprano.

The pit at Adelaide¹s Festival Theatre has the dimensions needed for a Wagnerian orchestra, conducted on this occasion, as it was for the imported Ring in 1998, by the Englishman Jeffrey Tate. His prime task and achievement was to lead the Adelaide Symphony in support of the singers. His tempi of Act I did not seem slower than the average on recording but the excitement at the slaying of the swan came not a minute too soon. I was not swept up in the Prelude to find myself returning to consciousness110 minutes later, following a seamless unfolding. The pulse was even more of a problem in Act III, which looked as if it would rival Act I. In between, Tate had revealed the passions and fripparies of Act II in all their rawness and tenderness, establishing an aural glow to rival any from the most modern of visual pyrotechnics.

Elke Neidhardt¹s solution to the stateliness of Act I was to humanise its significance, never trivialise with stage-business. She acknowledged the sexuality that is stewing among the pieties, and played with them for what they reveal about Wagner and his work. Her redemption of Kundry is to be expected as is her scepticism about the morality of blokes and blood. Neidhardt¹s originality is never to lose sight of Parsifal as a big baby who has never known a father, and can barely recall his mother. From this idiocy, Parsifal discovers first suffering, then empathy and finally recognises his place as the heir to the knightly realm of Montsalvat. She never lets the hero don shining armour, confining him to his mother¹s homespuns.

The Designer, Karl Friedrich Oberle, remains stuck in the boxes with which he afflicted Opera Australia¹s Mozart productions. Wagnerian Romanticism demands more magic tricks than Oberle has achieved by bathing the stage in a handful of patterns and colours. With the stunning exception of Klingsor¹s palace and gardens, the result is insipid. Confining the grail to the ethereal is apt but this symbolism would be more affecting had the shaft of light not emerged from an industrial cupola.

The spectacle that is Act II owes much to Nick Schlieper¹s lighting. However, Klingsor¹s viewing of Parisfal¹s attack from a hand-held panel would be more believable had the audience not been able to see its blankness reflected in the overhanging mirrors. Surely a digital artist could have supplied a track of colours.

2001 has been a great year for Australia¹s Wagnerians with Opera Australia¹s introduction of its Lohengrin to Sydney, before reviving its Tristan for Melbourne in November. The splendour of Adelaide¹s Parsifal is both heartening in its own right and for what it augurs for the first fully Australian production of the Ring at the State of Opera of South Australia, also under Elke Neidhardt¹s direction, in 2004.