Parsifal, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 2 March 2013

A stunning performance with a wonderful cast under superb musical direction by Daniele Gatti could make for a series of tiresome superlatives, so I shall start with a more interesting observation.

Kundry, Parsifal, Gurnemanz, all images MetOpera/ KenHoward

Kundry, Parsifal, Gurnemanz, all images MetOpera/ KenHoward

This endlessly intriguing opera allows every production to bring out some new aspect. The brilliant Bayreuth production relates it to the history of Germany in the first half of the twentieth century, but this one by François Girard has a more ethereal nature in which I found myself drawing a comparison between Act II of Parsifal with Siegfried.

In that middle section, Evgeny Nikitin, whose body tattoos caused his last minute rejection as the Dutchman at Bayreuth this past summer, made an extraordinary Klingsor reminiscent of Alberich in Siegfried. Here was a magician who held power by his determination to thwart the world, but is being defeated by forces beyond his control. And as Katerina Dalayman’s seductive Kundry cast her spell over Jonas Kaufmann’s simple, yet nobly portrayed Parsifal, singing of a mother’s yearning and a mother’s tears, I almost expected him to burst out with O heil der Mutter, die mich gebar! (O hail to the mother who gave me birth). But this is not Siegfried. Parsifal has a hidden inner strength and finally bursts out with Amfortas! …, recalling his great mission to relieve the enduring pain and mortal failure of the king, and renew of land of the Grail.

In Act III as he blesses Kundry, allowing her to die in peace, and heals the wound of Peter Mattei’s agonized Amfortas, so he can do the same, the excellent lighting and video designs by David Finn and Peter Flaherty change the bleak landscape to one of warmth and sunrise. Everything is entsündigt und entsühnt (redeemed and atoned for), though the subtitles gave a very odd translation of the German at times.

4.parsfd_7893a

The cinematography by Barbara Willis Sweete was exceptional, giving us a full stage picture with close-ups that never intruded to spoil the magic. In fact it enhanced the production in some places, as when Parsifal and Gurnemanz travel together to the Grail and we hear those wonderful lines Ich schreite kaum, doch wähn’ ich mich schon weit. Du siehst mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit (I scarcely step yet seem to move apace. You see, my son, here time is one with space). The camera views them from below, and manages the feat of rendering Gurnemanz larger than Parsifal.

As Gurnemanz, René Pape gave a performance of huge power, with fine diction. In Act I his expressions of emotion gave us a man who cares deeply for his beloved land of the Grail, and in Act III his sanctification of Parsifal was a sublime moment. The whole cast sang superbly, as did the chorus, and Carolyn Choa’s choreography for the Flower Maidens was attractively subdued and musical.

Good hosting by Eric Owens, who was a memorable Alberich in The Ring, and congratulations to the Met for this intelligent screening of Wagner’s final opera.

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