Parsifal (Metropolitan Opera)

met parsifal4Every so often there comes a production that can be described as no less than truly unforgettable, and here, in the composer’s bicentenary year, the Metropolitan Opera have delivered one of the finest, most stirring and most transcendent productions it has been my been my privilege to witness, with their astonishing, challenging, yet utterly enthralling and fully rewarding new production of Wagner’s masterful swansong ‘Parsifal’, his towering and timeless exploration of religion, endurance and enlightenment.

Loosely adapted from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th century epic, Middle High German poem ‘Parzival’, based on the life of the Arthurian knight Percival and his quest for the Holy Grail, and ‘Perceval, the Story of the Grail’ by the late 12th century French poet Chrétien de Troyes’ (best known for his work on Arthurian Legend, and for originating the character of King Arthur’s most trusted knight, Sir Lancelot du lac), Wagner’s epic three act opera, first conceived on Good Friday morning in April, 1857, proved to be Wagner’s final completed opera, taking a total of twenty five years to complete, before premiering in the Festspielhaus at the second Bayreuth Festival on 26 July, 1882.

10PARSIFAL-articleLargeSet between the castle of Monsalvat, in the mountains in the North of Spain, and Klingsor’s magic palace in the South, the story follows the ill-fated struggles of the young, negligent Parsifal, who after inadvertently intruding upon the sacred home of the Grail, sets out on a epic and cursed quest to recover the stolen Holy Spear and reunite it with the Holy Grail, fulfilling a prophecy to both relinquish the Grail’s protectors from a fallen curse and take up his position as the rightful new King of the Knights of the Grail.

In his Metropolitan Opera debut the French-Canadian director François Girard, best known for his innovative, 1993 film ‘Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould’, has produced a inventive, perceptive and truly superb new production of what has been described as an ‘unstageable’ piece of work, and his gallant staging, cleverly suffused with striking imagery and symbolism, proves theatrical and very accessible.

Opera Review Parsifal.JPEG-0f1f7Although far from shy on spectacular digital and visual effects, and very effective and well utilised choreography from Carolyn Choa, Girard’s production is primarily focused on the profound and enigmatic content of Wagner’s intricate, esoteric work, fully allowing the sheer compelling power of the music and the significance of the text to shine through, delivering an overall more intense, enriching and enduring experience.

Girard’s production transports the timeless story from the mythical regions of medieval Spain to a barren, empty and unspecified postapocalyptic setting (a world away from the shady solemn glade and deep-set lake indicated by Wagner) but the combination of Michael Levine’s desolate, brilliantly constructed and highly inventive set design; Peter Flaherty’s mesmeric, ominous and visually superb, cosmic themed video designs; David Finn’s engrossing and extraordinary lighting design; Thibault Vancraenenbroeck’s suitably bleak costume design and Carolyn Choa’s mechanical, effective and slightly eerie choreography brilliantly conjures stimulating and visually absorbing new world for the piece, making for an overall more captivating and indelible production.

6a00d8341c4e3853ef017c36eaf1d5970b-800wiA finer cast could not have been assembled for this remarkable new production and we have been gifted an array of the world’s finest Wagnerian singers and interpreters of these complex and highly demanding roles.

The technically flawless Jonas Kaufmann, arguably the world’s finest spinto tenor moves back into his native Heldentenor territory with his powerful, stirring and lyrically perfect performance as the eponymous young hero ‘Parsifal’. The 43-year old Kaufmann wonderfully utilises the baritonal quality of his vast tenor range, singing with superb clarity, intonation and refinement to deliver a dynamic, compelling and definitive performance of the demanding role.

The sublime German bass René Pape is on superb form as the veteran Knight, Gurnemanz, singing with a wonderfully effective mix of natural anguish and eerie admonition, showcasing his incomparably crisp, powerful and  authoritative bass vocals to the full and beautifully moulding the text to add greater levels of depth, acumen and emotion to the piece.

met parsifal6The Swedish soprano Katarina Dalayman is highly impressive and captivating as the cryptic Kundry, the most difficult and convoluted character of the piece, sining with a combination of visceral power, luscious tone and smooth legato, and effectively proving why she is considered one of the world’s finest interpreters of the role.

Her fellow Swede, baritone, Peter Mattei (best known for his performances in the works of Mozart) is in tremendous voice as the injured and afflicted ruler of the Grail kingdom, Amfortas, sining with such weight, emotion and grief and instantly capturing the empathy and understanding of the audience with a stunning and, given the great demands, physically impressive performance.

iFpIHzbnpUAkRussian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin was also very impressive in the supporting role of the villainous magician Klingsor, singing with a robust, earthy quality and effectively conveying the hateful and deceitful qualities of the character.

Special mention must also go to the fine Met chorus, singing with incredible emotion and intensity, with chorus master Donald Palumbo drawing out a superb overall performance.

Now into his fifth consecutive season conducting the great work, maestro Daniele Gatti renders a superb and inspired performance from the glorious Met orchestra, superbly capturing the exhilarating leitmotifs, chilling depths and rich, intense complexities of Wagner’s stirring, sublime and most profoundly personal score, and in a truly astonishing feat, Gatti conducts Wagner’s sweeping, near five-hour score entirely from memory, without a score in sight!

met-operaThe next Live In HD broadcast will be on March 16 at 12:00 pm ET / 5:00 pm GMT, with their ravishing production of Zandonai’s compelling opera ‘Francesca da Rimini’, last seen at the Met in 1986. Inspired by an episode from Dante’s Inferno, the production stars soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and tenor Marcello Giordani in the leading roles and will be conducted by maestro Marco Armiliato.

Running time: 5  hours 50 minutes (approx.)

Photography: Ken Howard

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