The Epoch Times, March 5, 2013
|By Barry Bassis
Wagner: Parsifal, Metropolitan Opera
The Met’s New “Parsifal:” Jonas Kaufmann Takes Charge
“Parsifal,” Richard Wagner’s last opera, had its debut in 1882 at the
Bayreuth Festival house. Instead of calling the work an opera, he called it
“a festival play for the consecration of a stage.” The opera had a long
gestation. The composer first read the 13th century chivalric romance by
Wolfram von Eschenbach (“Parzival;” Wagner changed the z to an f), that
inspired the opera in 1845. However, he did not write the libretto until
1877 and completed the music in 1881.
After Wagner’s death in 1883,
the composer’s family barred staged performances of “Parsifal” outside of
Bayreuth for 30 years (the term of the copyright). That moratorium was
broken by the Metropolitan Opera in 1903, since the United States did not
sign on to the international copyright law.
The Met has unveiled its
new production of “Parsifal,” directed by French Canadian François Girard.
He provides a fresh take on the opera, moving the action from the Middle
Ages to a post-apocalyptic setting. The director has said that he wanted to
play down the Christian elements in the text and stress the composer’s
interest in Buddhism late in his life.
The opera begins at Monsalvat,
the sanctuary of the Holy Grail. Residing there are the knights who guard
the cup that Christ drank from at the Last Supper and the spear that pierced
his body on the cross. The old knight Gurnemanz recounts the story of how
their suffering ruler Amfortas was wounded. An evil sorcerer named Klingsor
had sought to join the knights. He tried to eliminate his impure thoughts by
castrating himself. Perhaps sensing that he was a bit unbalanced, the order
rejected him. Klingsor then declared war on the knights and built a castle
with a magic garden filled with attractive women. The plan was effective;
Amfortas was seduced and then stabbed with the Holy Spear. According to a
prophecy, the wound can only be healed and the knights saved by an innocent
young man who will appear one day.
Suddenly, a swan is killed in
flight by a youth with a bow and arrow. He is dragged in by the knights but
doesn’t know his own name or why he committed the deed. (He is a bit like
Jason Bourne except that the action in those films is fast and “Parsifal” is
slow, taking over five hours, and is filled with religious themes.) Kundry
(a mysterious woman who had brought medicine for Amfortas) reveals the boy’s
history; his father was slain in a battle and his mother raised him in a
forest before she died.
In the second act, it is revealed that Kundry
is sort of a double agent. She is under the spell of Klingsor, who orders
her to seduce the young man, whom the sorcerer believes to be the holy fool
in the prophecy. After the flower maidens fail to evoke a response in the
young man, Kundry appears (now transformed into an attractive young woman)
and reveals his name: Parsifal. This sparks his memories and he realizes
that he is destined to save the knights and that Kundry is responsible for
Amfortas’ injury. She tries to arouse his compassion by telling him that she
has been cursed for eternity because she laughed at Christ’s suffering on
the cross. When Parsifal rejects her, Klingsor hurls the Holy Spear at the
hero. He catches it and causes Klingsor’s realm to disappear.
last act, Parsifal returns to the knight’s sanctuary and describes his years
of wandering in search of the way back. Kundry (reawakened by Gurnemanz)
washes Parsifal’s feet and he is proclaimed the king, after which he
baptizes her. The suffering Amfortas wants the knights to end his life, but
Parsifal heals his wound with the Holy Spear.
Girard’s production may
be more desolate than what Wagner had in mind but it is effective, in part
due to the contributions of Michael Levine (sets), Thibault Vancraenenbroeck
(costumes), David Finn (lights), Peter Flaherty (video) and Carolyn Choa
(choreography). In fact, Klingsor’s maidens in Act II actually looked
The cast is as fine as could be assembled anywhere
in the world. In the title role, Jonas Kaufmann is magisterial, as singer
and actor. Whether belting out high notes or appearing as a confused young
man, hero battling an evil sorcerer or as an older man ready to ascend the
throne, Kaufmann is spell-binding. The rest of the cast is also
excellent: Katarina Dalayman as the mult-faceted Kundry, Rene Pape as
Gurnemanz, Peter Mattei as Amfortas and Evgeny Nikitin as Klingsor. Praise
also goes to conductor Daniele Gatti and chorus master Donald Palumbo.
The opera may be 330 minutes long but it is an unforgettable experience.