Associated Press, February 17, 2013
Wagner: Parsifal, Metropolitan Opera, 15. Februar 2013
Met premieres Francois Girard’s striking new ‘Parsifal’ with glorious cast, superb conducting
In Wagner’s “Parsifal,” the leader of the Knights of the Holy Grail suffers
from an agonizing wound that will not heal. In Francois Girard’s vision of
the opera, this wound afflicts the earth itself, etching a widening crevice
that tears society apart and threatens the survival of mankind.
French-Canadian director’s starkly modern and thought-provoking staging,
first seen last year in Lyon, France, premiered at the Metropolitan Opera on
Friday night. Though traditionalists may object, this is a “Parsifal” to
treasure, elevated to the highest musical level by the solemnity and sweep
of Daniele Gatti’s conducting and the dedication of a dream cast of singing
actors, headed by tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the title role.
opening notes of the prelude, Girard attempts to make the audience see
themselves in the events on stage. A mirrored curtain reflects back at us a
blurred image of the auditorium where we are sitting. Behind the curtain we
soon see the chorus, the men stripping off jackets and shoes and remaining
dressed in everyday attire of white shirts and dark pants. Once the curtain
rises on Michael Levine’s set, the stage is a desolate, perhaps
post-apocalyptic landscape with a narrow river running down the center; the
men are seated in a circle of chairs on the right, while the women have been
banished to the left.
When the wounded Amfortas is carried in to seek
relief by bathing in the river, it turns to blood — a grim reminder that no
water can cleanse him of his sin: He once allowed the temptress Kundry to
seduce him and, while locked in her embrace, was stabbed with his own spear
by the sorcerer Klingsor.
At the end of Act 1, the river widens into
a chasm, and Parsifal, the “innocent fool” who will redeem Amfortas,
descends into Klingsor’s lair. First he must fend off the Flower Maidens,
here imagined as spear-carrying warriors in sleeveless white dresses. Then
Kundry attempts to seduce him on a bed whose sheets turn red as Girard
floods the stage with 16,000 gallons of fake blood. Parsifal, overcome by
compassion for Amfortas’ suffering, resists Kundry, destroys Klingsor and
reclaims the holy spear.
Girard’s staging in Act 3 is breathtaking in
its simplicity, beginning with Parsifal’s return to the knights. First just
the very tip of his spear appears in the background, growing taller as the
exhausted hero staggers up a hill. Finally he appears, shrouded in a kind of
monk’s habit. Not until later does his reveal his face and the
close-cropped, graying hair that has replaced his curly locks. Parsifal
heals Amfortas with the spear, and by baptizing the penitent Kundry, he also
heals the rift in society. At last the women are able to cross the divide,
and Girard underscores the reconciliation by having Parsifal choose Kundry
to uncover the Grail.
Integral to the production are the video
projections by Peter Flaherty, a constantly shifting array of multicolored
shapes that sometimes resemble storm clouds, a moonscape or even contours of
the female body.
Kaufmann, more than most Parsifals, looks and acts
the part of a callow youth to perfection in the opening scene. Vocally, he
rises to the stirring climaxes in Act 2 with his customary thrilling tone,
then seems to deliberately hold back in Act 3, giving many of his phrases a
hushed, worshipful quality.
To bass Rene Pape falls the longest role
in this or just about any opera, the knight Gurnemanz who doubles as
narrator and father figure. Pape pours out unstinting rich, velvety sound,
but just as important, his is a deeply felt interpretation: His joy at the
miracle that has brought Parsifal back and saved the knights brings tears to
his eyes — and ours.
As fine as Kaufmann and Pape are, the revelation
of the night is baritone Peter Mattei, tackling the role of Amfortas for the
first time. When has any singer so powerfully expressed the suffering of
this tormented character while producing burnished sounds of such
breathtaking beauty? His monologues in the first and final acts are the
musical and dramatic highlights of the evening.
As Kundry, soprano
Katarina Dalayman rises to the challenge of the seduction scene with a
fearless performance, her singing blemished only by a couple of troublesome
high notes. Baritone Evgeny Nikitin blusters his way with suitable menace
through the role of Klingsor, and debuting bass Runi Brattaberg makes the
most of the brief offstage utterances of Amfortas’ father, Titurel.
Gatti, conducting without a score, is clearly enraptured by the Met
orchestra’s ability to spin a glorious web of sound. On opening night, the
players returned the compliment, remaining in the pit while he took his bows
on stage with the cast and production team. As always at a Met premiere of
an adventurous production, there were a few boos for the director, but they
were drowned out by cheers.
There are six more performances through
March 8, including a live high-definition broadcast to movie theaters around
the world on March 2. Asher Fisch takes over as conductor for the last two