Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

05 Mar 2013

Wagner Parsifal at the Met

This prioduction of Wagner's Parsifal, directed by François Girard, premiered in Lyons last year. The Met, being a far wealthier house, was able to assemble a truly spectacular cast: Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape, Katarina Dalayman, Peter Mattei and Evgeny Nikitin. Success guaranteed, even if the production is European and modern. These performances set new benchmarks. This Parsifal will be the stuff of legend for decades to come.

Richard Wagner : Parsifal

IKundry : Katarina Dalayman, Parsifal : Jonas Kaufmann, Amfortas : Peter Mattei, Klingsor : Evgeny Nitikin, Gurnemanz : René Pape, Conductor : Daniele G\atti, Director : Francois Girard, Designs : Michael Levine, Costumes : Thibault V\ncraenenbroeck, Lighting : David Finn, Video : Peter Flaherty, Choreography : Carolyn Choa, Dramaturg : Serge Lamothe. Metropolitan Opera House, HD broadcast 3rd March 2013

 

"Hört ihr den Ruf?". From the moment Pape starts to sing, we realize that this will be no routine Parsifal. Gurnemanz apperars in normal street clothes, so you concentrate on the man he is and what he says, without the filter of fancy dress costume. This makes for an uncommonly direct portrayal. Pape enunciates the long recitatives with careful deliberation, his phrasing natural, each word measured so its meaning cannot be missed. Like the Wanderer in Siegfried, Gurnemanz knows he cannot change the past, but might glimpse the future. The Knights mock Kundry, just as she mocked Jesus. Gurnemanz shows her compassion. Pape's voice warms when he addresses her. In the final act, he touches her face with great tenderness: you wonder if there's more to their relationship than Wagner lets on. A sub-theme of sexual repression runs through the opera. A basic understanding of Wagner's ideas on nature, human and otherwise, should alert us as to what Parsifal might really mean. Fearful of Kundry, the Community blocks out part of the balance so necessary for growth.

This production, directed by François Girard with designs by Michael Levine, interprets Parsifal in connection with the breadth of Wagner's vision perceptively. Fundamentally Parsifal isn't "about" Christianity at all, though Christian icons abound. The Knights of the Grail didn't exist, and Klingsor is sheer fantasy. The idea that any one group should "own" the Grail contradicts the very idea of Christianity, where each time Mass is said, communities all over the world re-enact the Communion. If anything Parsifal is a veiled critique of established religion. Just as Wagner challenges capitalsim in the Ring, in Parsifal he challenges conventional piety. The Grail Knights hate Klingsor because he uses magic to achieve his aims. Yet they themselves practise superstition. Good Friday commemorates the Crucifixion. It doesn't, of itself, create miracles. The Knights talk the talk, and walk the walk (the processions) but even Gurnemanz can't, at first, understand who Parsifal is and why he seemingly defiles the holy day by turning up in his grubbies.

Religion and religiosity are very different things. Parsifal is more Siegfried than Jesus. He's a posthumous child whose background is obscure: all we know are his parents' names, although Kundry, like Brünnhilde, may know more than she's letting on. Like Siegfried, Parsifal is an innocent unpolluted by the world (another reference to Wagner's Romantic ideas of Nature). But unlike Siegfried, who thinks only of himself and the immediate moment, Parsifal learns through compassion. "Durch Mitleid wissend, der reine Tor", can grow and develop, and become the Saviour releasing Amfortas from his wound. He regains the Spear that pierced Jesus' body on the Cross. He baptises Kundry, who thus (in this non-misogynistic production) can greet the Grail. Yet hang on! Jesus was the Son of God: Parsifal is the son of an obscure human being. Imbuing him with semi-divine powers is sacrilege. And in any case nothing in the Gospels suggests that the spear at the Crucifixion had magic powers. Miracles come from God, if you believe, not from inanimate objects. The Grail Community believes in things but not in the concepts that mark true faith.

Parsifal works as a spiritual experience because the music is sublime. It can detoxify our ears, clearing out the mental muzak that pollutes our normal lives. The diaphanous textures, and the reverential tempi operate on our psyches, putting us in a kind of zen state where we're receptive to spiritual urges. Parsifal can be soporific in the wrong hands, but let's not forget that the REM state of sleep is physiologically important, connected with dreams, memory and deep refreshment. No wonder Parsifal evokes spiritual feelings even if the narrative is fundamentally non-religious.

With Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal, one can believe. He sings like a God. In the First Act, Kaufmann has relatively little to sing, because Parsifal is still in embryo, so to speak. Kaufmann's eyes observe everything keenly: he's learning with every moment that passes. Because Siegfried knew no fear, he was easily fooled. Parsifal, on the other hand, is feared by strangers because they can sense instinctively that he has a mind of his own.

In Klingsor's Zauberschloss, Parsifal kills the Flower Maiden's lovers - that's why the scene is awash with blood, as the text makes perfectly clear. Parsifal kills without malice, just as he killed the Swan who led him to the Grail community. He's still very much on a learning curve.In any case, Blood flows all over this opera. There are so many references to blood, death and birth that it's surprising how restrained this staging really is.

The Flower Maidens in this production are powerfully realized. They are beautiful, but close up we can see they are wearing wigs and have identikit painted masks. The choreography is by Carolyn Choa. The women are grouped in the shape of a lotus, so when they bend and move, they look like a giant lotus opening its petals. Choa choreographed Anthony Minghella's Madama Butterfly. While the use of the colour red also figures, the intention's quite different. The Lotus is a Buddhist symbol of purity, shooting up sullied from the mud beneath a lake. Parsifal, by implication. The reference is also to the Buddhist way of Compassion Wagner was reading about at the time he was working on Parsifal. That's yet another reason for not taking the "Christian" aspects of the opera too literally. Parsifal offers Compassion as an alternative to the self-righteous judgementalism of the Grail community. Buddhists don't believe in deities but in concepts of good ethics. Anyone who lives with selfess virtue can attain Boddhisatva. Interestingly, when the Knights of the Grail first gathered in Act One, they, too, formed a circle like a lotus, though it didn't last. A small detail, perhaps, but absolutely relevant.

The scene is nott gory. The floor is covered, but it's shiny like a mirror, reflecting what's above it. A bed descends on which Kundry attempts to seduce Parsifal It's pure white, but as Kundry moves about, she stains the sheets red. As the Flower Miadens dance, the water turns their dresses pink, in a parody of girliness. They lean on spears, like pole dancers. They are mocking the Spear as Kundry mocked Jesus, but also making a statement about the misogyny of the Grail community and of the established Church.

Katarina Dalayman's Kundry is flesh and blood woman in a negligée. Waltraud Meier's wild animal Kundry in the Nicholas Lenhoff production remains a tour de force, defining the role at its most savage.. But Dalayman is right for Girard's humanist Parsifal, and the scene on the bed gives her a chance to show Kundry's quintessential vulnerability. Dalayman is good, and would shine more had we not been blinded by the glory of Kaufmann's singing.

The Second Act marks a turning point in Parsifal's journey towards self-knowledge. Just as he is about to succumb to lust, Parsifal thinks of Amfortas's suffering. With tremendous force, Kaufmann sings "Amfortas! Die Wunde! Die Wunde!", and then with heartfelt agony "Furchtbare Klage!". His voice carries such authority that it seems to obliterate everything around him. His singing is so powerful that quite frankly, it doesn't matter how he catches the Spear, or how Kundry curses him. He's invincible because he has found his Mission.

Yet Parsifal still has a long way to go before he achieves his destiny. In the Final Act, the Grail Community is falling apart, the Knights scavenging for survival in a post-apocalyptuc Wasteland. The ground is parched and cracked. Water and blood are fluids, both essential for life. Yet even at this nadir, there is hope. When Pape sings "...der .Lenz ist da!" he prepares the way for Parsifal's "die Halme, Blüten und Blumen", fresh, open meadows rather than the hothouse flowers of Klingsor's realm. But perhaps it's also an echo of Sieglinde's "Du bist der Lenz". Nonetheless the Grail Community is still so hidebound by pointless rules that even Gurnemanz can't recognize The Spear when Parsifal places it before him.

"Der Irmis und der Leiden Pfade kam ich, soll ich mich denen jetzt entwunden wähnen" When Kaufmann sings of Parsifal's struggles, his voice expresses genuine anguish. Just as the Spear was once forged in flames, Parsifal has matured through suffering. Amfortas's wound can be healed by the Spear; Parsifal's wounds make him who he is now. He uses the Spear to help others. The Shrine is opened, and it would appear that the Community revives. Wagner's instructions are that a white dove appears over Parsifal's head. Anyone with a basic grasp of theology recognizes the reference to Jesus. Kaufmann's timbre is so strong and pure that you can suspend belief for an instant. Superlative performances, too, from Peter Mattei (Amfortas) and Evgeny Nikitin as Klingsor. In any ordinary production, they'd shine. In this luxury cast, there wasn't any weak link. Daniele Gatti's conducting highlighted the drama. I can remember a Bernard Haitink Parsifal where the tempi were so slow that that it would have worked better as audio. Beautiful, but Parsifal is a work for the stage.

Wagner was an artist, and for him, art transcended all else. Parsifal is a miraculous work of art, utterly convincing on its own terms. But it's art, not religion. Wagner adapted Icelandic sagas for the Ring, and medieval legend for Tristan und Isolde. Adapting the Gospels for his own purposes would have been perfectly logical. If anything, Girard's Parsifal makes me appreciate the true spirituality in the opera, rather than the pseudo-Christian mumbo-jumbo.

Anne Ozorio

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):