Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.



Tómas Tómasson as Amfortas [Photo by Franco Lannino courtesy of the Teatro Massimo]
03 Feb 2020

Parsifal in Palermo

Richard Wagner chose to finish his Good Friday opera while residing in Sicily’s Palermo, partaking of the natural splendors of its famed verdant basin, the Conca d’Oro, and reveling in the golden light of its surreal Monreale cathedral.

Parsifal in Palermo

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Tómas Tómasson as Amfortas

All photos by Franco Lannino courtesy of the Teatro Massimo.


Thirty-eight year old Israeli conductor Omer Meir Wellber chose Wagner’s opera of renewal to inaugurate his tenure as music director of Palermo’s Teatro Massimo, architecturally and artistically one of Italy’s most impressive opera houses. The maestro exploited the Teatro Massimo's excellent orchestra to resolutely proclaim Wagner’s sublime grail motif tirelessly throughout the seemingly brief, if five hour evening.

Maestro Wellber inherits the Teatro Massimo’s recent commitment to Teutonic art, the theater having concluded its Ring cycle in 2016 with British stage director Graham Vick’s minimalist Gotterdämmerung. Mr. Vick returned to stage this minimalist Parsifal.

Minimalist does not mean minimal resources. Foremost was the immense empty stage of an historic grand opera theater, the massive cut stones of its back wall strengthened by the architectural principles of ancient Rome. A huge and timeless space, the world and its humanity there to confront us when we entered the theater. The grand proscenium curtain then fell to create the dark, abstract space of the auditorium for the metaphysical musical world of Wagner’s prelude.

The stage and its platform, a giant, raked (upward sloping) space, again appeared on which we soon confronted Amfortas as the naked body of the crucified Jesus Christ, crowned by thorns (the fit and pale Christlike body of Iceland bass Tómas Tómasson). The exposed lighting sources and the half curtain used to mark the changes of scene were additional quotes of typical trademarks of Brechtian Epic Theatre that we were to behold.

©Franco Lannino IMG_1876.pngCatherine Hunold as Kundry with the seduction bed

While Graham Vick’s theater is indeed essentially Brechtian, respecting an aim to make us think and learn, it also confronts us with blatant humanity using startling costumes — the loin cloth, wounded nudity of Amfortas, the loin cloth wounded nudity of his antithesis Klingor (the fit and muscular body of German bass baritone Thomas Gazheli), the hijāb covering of Kundry in the first act and the female chorus in the second act garden, the army fatigues and assault rifles of the knights of the grail, the pantsless knights of Klingsor’s sex obsessed kingdom.

Pure Brechtian theater rejects realism and its emotions but Graham Vick’s theater uses human bodies to create an intense sense of emotional space that heightens the realities we are forced to confront. His theater demands awesome numbers of human bodies to create these confrontations. Literally hundreds of bodies — a daunting demand fully met by the Teatro Massimo.

Of note in the Vick staging of Parsifal was the use of the half curtain as a shadow curtain in a direct quote of the silhouette processions that puppeteer William Kentridge often creates. The orchestral processions to the Holy Grail in the first and third acts were in Graham Vick’s world shadows of an endless line of a cruel and frivolous humanity marching across the vast stage expanse towards a meaningless grail. And yes, coup de théâtre, finally there was no grail at all!

©Franco Lannino IMG_1961.pngGurnemanz among the children, Parsifal and Kundry

Cosima Wagner in her diaries quotes Wagner stating that Parsifal is “salvation to the savior” and the opera’s final music ascends towards somewhere for the more than five minutes of sublime orchestral music with offstage choir. But for Mr. Vick there there was no salvation of the savior — Amfortas had simply disappeared somewhere into the crowd.

The final tableau, in place of Wagner’s dove ascending to heaven while Amfortas and Kundry lay dead on the floor, was Parsifal sitting in the center of a circle of children wholesomely lecturing them about something profound while Kundry is beatifically standing nearby, liberated from Klingsorian aggression (a #MeToo moment), the impoverished knights of the grail now freed to pursue their personal destinies. One presumes that the throngs of humanity that populated Mr. Vick’s processions were now purified as well.

There were many electrifying moments to be sure, among them Amfortas digging out the buried grail (a tin cup), his blood falling into it to be drunk by the knights as they too mortified themselves. Kundry’s seduction of Parsifal held us entranced for its duration. And finally, astonishingly, as Parsifal baptized Kundry, a crowd of children were carried onto the stage holding huge building blocks (the voices of innocence that flooded the auditorium from time to time throughout the evening).

All this was a lot for maestro Amer Meir Wellber to hold together. But he succeeded in a reading that was absolutely straight forward, keeping to the tight timeline for each act that Richard Wagner had dictated (other conductors have loved to flaunt much slower times), thereby laying a solid foundation on which Graham Vick production might lay out his broader, social resolution. If the Italianate sound of the Teatro Massimo orchestra did not capture the philosophic raptures of the northern European spirit it did portray the enlivened spirit of the Mediterranean soul.

Among the many fine performances of the evening, some extraordinary (Tómas Tómasson as Amfortas and Thomas Gazheli as Klingsor), the magisterial Gurnemanz of Canadian bass baritone John Relyea stood out first as a young, emboldened knight, and finally as the old, wise voice of humanity. French soprano Catherine Hunold sang Mary Magdalene/Kundry in fine voice though without correspondence to a Wagnerian Venus.

The announced Parsifal of the production, Daniel Kirch, fell ill. His understudy Julian Hubbard stepped in for all six performances. Mr. Hubbard fully embodied Mr. Vick and Mo. Wellber’s Parsifal. If his fine, young voice served him exceedingly well for the first two acts, it did not possess the power and color to fulfill the heroic vocal demands of Wagner's third act Parsifal.

Michael Milenski

Production information:

Stage Director: Graham Vick; Scenery Timothy O'Brien; Costumes: Mauro Tinti; Choreography: Ron Howell; Lighting: Giuseppe Di Iorio. Chorus, childrens chorus, orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Teatro Comunale, January 28, 2020.

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):